Elderly North Carolina couple complains after traffic stop turns into drug interrogation

Posted at 3:44 PM, Mar 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-13 15:44:52-04

WALTON COUNTY, Ga. — A routine traffic stop turned into a drug interrogation for an elderly couple in Walton County.

CBS46 began investigating the incident when the couple passing through Georgia complained that a deputy crossed the line.

Charles Tharp, 69, never expected that his family vacation would end the way it did.

He and his wife had just visited their grandchild in Texas and were headed back home to North Carolina when a Walton County Sheriff’s deputy stopped them.

“It just seemed a little unusual because we’re not speeding and we’re always careful drivers,” said Charles Tharp.

Tharp and his wife were told their windows were too dark. The deputy checked the tint and found it was not within the legal limit. But, on the contrary, the Tharp’s Toyota dealership tested the tint and got a different reading that was legal.

“I thought that was awfully strange since these are factory-tinted Toyota windows and it seems so peculiar that someone would stop you for something like that,” said Charles Tharp.

It turns out the window tinting was just the beginning of their troubles.

The deputy told the couple to get out of their car and then he began to question them about smuggling drugs.

“I don’t honestly know what the stereotype looks like for a heroin smuggler, but I don’t think a couple of senior citizens driving a handicapped license plate car with their little cocker spaniel really looks like we’re much of a threat to anybody,” said Charles Tharp.

The interrogation went on for more than 20 minutes in the cold with the couple standing on the side of the road. It was an uncomfortable experience for Charles Tharp, considering he has cancer and often has back pain from standing.

CBS46 questioned the Walton County Sheriff’s Office about the traffic stop. They told us they have counseled the deputy and are in the process of reviewing the incident.

“Our deputy is trained to take an extra step,” said Chief Deputy Keith Brooks. “He is actually attached to our narcotics unit and he is primarily support for them. However, when he is out on the road and not supporting them, he conducts traffic stops. His primary function is to look for criminal activity.”

Brooks admits the deputy may have taken the questioning too far, but as far as the couple is concerned, the damage has been done.

“I tell you what, I respect the law less today than I did before,” said Charles Tharp.

The couple told us they got a call from the Sheriff’s office after we began asking questions about the incident.

They were told a formal investigation had been opened and they should know the outcome in a few days.