CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WWAY) -- If a police officer catches you texting and driving, you could be in trouble. But what if it's the other way around.
A man driving in Carolina Beach yesterday says he caught a police officer using his phone while driving.
It's the picture that's raising eyebrows at Carolina Beach. The photo shows Ofc. Elliott Bass operating his phone Sunday afternoon while driving.
A witness, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution by police, says it went on for a couple miles.
"He texted pretty much from the intersection at Dow Road to the first 55 mph speed limit sign on Carolina Beach Road, when we snapped the photo and then moved on past him," the man said.
Carolina Beach Police Lt. Anthony Marcucilli says state law lets an officer text and drive if he is performing his official duties. But Marcucilli says text logs from Bass's phone show the officer was not texting at the time.
Bass says he was using a weather app on his smartphone to check out the incoming storm.
Regardless of what Ofc. Bass was doing on his phone, the people of Carolina Beach did not like what they saw.
"Why is he allowed to do it if I'm not allowed to do it?" vacationer Marc Whitford asked when he saw the photo.
"People get killed that way," C.J. Stout said. "It's careless driving."
"I see more people swerving as they're texting more than drunk drivers," visitor Jack Newton said.
Carolina Beach police say they agree that it is a safety issue, and that it has been addressed, but in a statement, the department maintained bass did nothing illegal.
"It's not a good example of what we're trying to teach the kids not to do, and it's very dangerous," Carolina Beach resident Rachel Cavenaugh said.
The man who was driving next to Ofc. Bass says he had his eight-year-old daughter take the photo after she said something about the policeman not being safe.
Statement from CBPD Lt. Anthony Marcucilli:
In a response to a complaint about an officer using his cell phone to text while driving a marked police vehicle the following facts were revealed after my investigation.
On July 2, 2012 at 9:48 I spoke with the officer in question. Officer Bass confirmed on Sunday July 1, 2012 at approximately 5:40 p.m. he was driving vehicle number 81. I asked him the direct question, “Were you texting on your phone while driving?” he responded “no I wasn’t.” Officer Bass stated he noticed the clouds to the north of him were becoming dark so he used his personal cell phone to check the local weather forecast.
Officer Bass offered to print out a copy of his cell phone usage details. I reviewed his usage for text messages and determined that he did not receive or send any text messages within one hour from the time in question.
I counseled Officer Bass about the perception of the public and why it may looks improper to use your cell phone to check the weather while he is driving.
In conclusion I find no fault in Officer Bass’s actions. Officer Bass is assigned to Freeman Park as a Carolina Beach Police Officer and one of his duties is to check the weather conditions to ensure the safety of the public. As we discussed this is allowed by NC general statute 20-137.4A(b)(2).