GREENSBORO, N.C. -A former soldier said Wednesday he believed that the deputy who initiated a fateful traffic stop in 2002 was part of an Army role-playing exercise – a belief broken only when the officer fired two fatal shots at a Special Forces colleague.
In testimony that ranged from tearful to forceful, Stephen Phelps laid out for a federal jury in North Carolina his recollection of the bizarre and tragic encounter with deputy Randall Butler. Phelps filed a federal lawsuit against the officer for using excessive force, while Butler insists he feared for his life.
For several days in the winter of 2002, Phelps had infiltrated the fictitious country of Pineland as part of a Special Forces exercise in which trainees were supposed to work in central North Carolina with guerrillas to overthrow a make-believe oppressive government. The off-base exercise involving soldiers from Fort Bragg ranged over several counties and was code-named Robin Sage. One day, Phelps was huddled in the back of a flatbed pickup truck, bundled in flannel and with fishing poles and a tackle box to provide a mock cover story that he and another soldier were migrant workers fishing on their day off. Butler, a Moore County Deputy at the time, saw the two soldiers and a civilian volunteer in the truck and, thinking it was suspicious, followed the vehicle and pulled it over.
"I figured we were being set up for some sort of learning objective," Phelps testified.
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