05/30/17 — Sheriff's Office captain found not guilty of contempt of court

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Sheriff's Office captain found not guilty of contempt of court

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on May 30, 2017 7:29 PM

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Wayne County Sheriff's Office Capt. Steve Mozingo is sworn in during his criminal contempt of court hearing Tuesday at the Wayne County Courthouse. Mozingo was found not guilty by Judge Jay Hockenbury on the grounds that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mozingo actions were taken due to gross negligence.

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Capt. Steve Mozingo, with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, takes the stand Tuesday during a hearing at the Wayne County Courthouse in which he was found not guilty of criminal contempt of court.

Wayne County Sheriff's Office Capt. Steve Mozingo was found not guilty of criminal contempt of court during a hearing Tuesday.

Superior Court Judge Jay Hockenbury ruled that the prosecution failed to prove one of the two elements required  ---- one, that Mozingo substantially interfered with the business of the court, and two, that his actions demonstrated gross negligence ---- to convict Mozingo on the charge.

The charges stemmed from an incident earlier this year when Mozingo, after testifying in a murder trial, later asked an alternate juror with whom he is acquainted if his testimony had been clear enough to understand.

According to testimony given during the show cause hearing, Mozingo already faced punishment prior to his arrival in court.

Mozingo took the stand and testified he was put on administrative leave for three days and unpaid leave for three days.

Hockenbury also read a formal letter of reprimand he will send to Wayne County Sheriff Larry Pierce, and recommended it be put into Mozingo's personnel file.

It will be the only formal blemish on Mozingo's entire career with the sheriff's office, testimony showed.

Mozingo was at the hearing after being issued a show-cause order April 28 for speaking to an alternate juror in the first-degree murder trial of Kenneth Morgan Stancil III the night prior, on April 27.

The order required Mozingo and his attorney, Geoff Hulse, to show the court why he should not be found in criminal contempt of court.

The incident happened at Wayne Community College when Mozingo spoke to David Cuddeback, who was an alternate juror in the trial, and asked him if he understood the testimony he had given that day.

Testimony showed Cuddeback is a paramedic instructor at Wayne Community College, teaching a course every Monday and Thursday in the Pine Building.

The incident happened on Thursday, April 27, when Cuddeback had a class to teach, after Mozingo had testified in the trial earlier that day.

Cuddeback's classroom is directly across the hall from Mozingo's office.

Testimony showed Cuddeback replied he understood him, but would have to talk to him when the trial was finished.

Mozingo testified it did not dawn on him that he had spoken with a juror in the trial until he got in the shower the morning of April 28.

Under cross-examination from Pitt County Assistant District Attorney Clark Everett, Mozingo testified he had remembered seeing Cuddeback in the courtroom while he was testifying in the Stancil trial, but did not realize he was a juror.

"I can't say I recognized him as a juror, because I think  I would've never said anything to him," Mozingo said.

Mozingo called District Attorney Matthew Delbridge and self-reported the incident. He testified he also called Pierce to inform him of what had happened.

Cuddeback was allowed as an alternate juror in the trial after passing questioning from Stancil's defense attorney, Walter Webster, as well as Delbridge, who prosecuted the case.

No alternate jurors ended up needing to be used in the trial.

After the incident was brought to the court's attention April 28, the day after it happened, Cuddeback was dismissed from serving as an alternate juror.

Cuddeback testified he did not speak to any jurors prior to coming to court that day, nor while he was there prior to being dismissed.

Other than Mozingo, Delbridge and Cuddeback, Pierce also testified during the hearing.

A portion of Pierce's testimony focused on a letter he penned to the court May 2 speaking to Mozingo's exemplary character, complete lack of blemishes or demerits on his personnel file and the many accolades he has received throughout his law enforcement career.

Though he ended up being found not guilty, Mozingo testified he will now retire on an earlier date than previously planned.

Mozingo testified he had originally planned to retire July 1 of this year, but will now retire this Thursday, June 1, after being allowed to take some sick leave time from his wife.

Mozingo's wife also works at the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

Hulse argued during closing arguments Mozingo was a good person who had a bad day and made a mistake, and his actions were improper but not illegal. Therefore, Hulse contended, it would not be appropriate to find him in criminal contempt of court.

Everett argued there was no doubt Mozingo had served his community well and was to be commended for that, but said that jurors should not have to deal with ever encountering this situation in the first place.

Everett argued that had Cuddeback answered Mozingo's question to him that day differently, it could have led to a conversation that might have damaged the outcome of the case.

Prior to the verdict being delivered, Hulse filed a motion to dismiss the charges after the state rested its case, and renewed the motion at the close of all evidence.

The motion was denied both times.

Hockenbury ruled the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mozingo's conduct did substantially interfere with the business of the court during the Stancil trial.

But, Hockenbury also ruled the state failed to prove that Mozingo's actions constituted gross negligence, therefore failing to prove both elements needed to find Mozingo guilty of criminal contempt of court.

Mozingo testified he had thought about the incident all day, every day since he spoke to Cuddeback, and still does not know why he did it.

"I can tell you I've asked myself a thousand times a day why I asked the question," Mozingo said. "I cannot answer that question, because I do not know."