Businesswoman undermines assertions about investigation of black officer
Jerry Bledsoe, a veteran Greensboro journalist and author of the long-running “Cops in Black and White” series, headst to court on Monday. (photo by Jordan Green)
A decision on a motion for dismissal was postponed for the libel case of two black Greensboro police officers against the Rhinoceros Times on Monday. Superior Court Judge Edgar Gregory said he would try to make a decision by the last day of April and that the jury trial scheduled for late February would be continued until the summer.
True-crime writer Jerry Bledsoe, editor John Hammer and publisher William Hammer appeared in court with their lawyer, Seth Cohen, for a hearing of their motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case. Representing officers Brian James and Julius “Jay” Fulmore, Amiel Rossabi argued the necessity of going forward to a trial.
Defending his clients, Cohen said why articles by Bledsoe and one by John Hammer were not libel.
“Not one person told Mr. Bledsoe what he said was wrong,” Cohen said in court. “Mr. Bledsoe wasn’t there to reinvestigate. He was there to explain why the investigation [of black officers including Fulmore and James] had been done.”
Rossabi made the case that Bledsoe fabricated information, wrote with a willful disregard for the truth and that Hammer followed suit and did not check Bledsoe’s facts. Rossabi claimed Bledsoe always believed the white officers he interviewed and never trusted black officers.
“He chose to believe what supported his goal and his path,” Rossabi said. “Mr. Bledsoe was not going to let anything take his blinders off.”
A RELIABLE SOURCE
Bledsoe’s weekly “Cops in Black and White” series included more than 90 articles and contains almost all of the statements in question. The case outlines 24 specific examples from the Rhinoceros Times in which the prosecution claims libelous statements were made. Items 15 and 16 on the list pertain to assertions from a “reliable” source that Fulmore protected and frequented an illegal business.
According to an e-mail from Greensboro police Detective Brian Williamson to Capt. Rick Ball on Sept. 19, 2005, he received a phone call from a source alleging that the Game Time Lounge continued to operate an illegal business because Fulmore “protects them, frequents the place, gets services there, etc.”
The department responded to the tip by sending confidential informants and undercover Winston-Salem officers to the Game Time Lounge on Grove Street in the Glenwood neighborhood. After obtaining a warrant, the department raided the Game Time Lounge, but throughout all of their investigations found no further proof of any connection to Fulmore.
A Sept. 26, 2005 memo from Deputy Chief Randall Brady to then- Chief David Wray said that the “allegation of police protection could not be corroborated.”
As Williamson explained in his e-mail, the phone call came from “Aunt Flossie” who claimed to run the business next door to the Game Time Lounge. At the time, Aunt Flossie’s Printing Press and Gifts was located at 1212 Grove St.
Williamson and other officers assumed the call was placed by the owner of Aunt Flossie’s, Joan Brincefield, though this was never verified. Furthermore, the caller said she was basing her information off of what someone said in a barbershop.
Williamson assumed she was referring to a barbershop on Grove Street but did not verify which barbershop or ask who told “Aunt Flossie” about Fulmore’s alleged illegal activities.
Calls to Williamson, who is still on the force, were not returned.
Based on Williamson’s e-mail, former police officer Mike Toomes told Bledsoe that he considered “Aunt Flossie” a reliable source.
Cohen stated on Monday that Bledsoe had access to Williamson’s e-mail and based his evaluation of the source’s reliability on
Toomes, who was a former sergeant in the vice/narcotics division.
In an affidavit on Oct. 27, 2010, Toomes swore that he too assumed “Aunt Flossie” was Brincefield and considered the source reliable. The affidavit was filed by the defense in the libel lawsuit.
Who is Aunt Flossie?
Joan Brincefield denies ever calling the police department.
“I’ve not ever called the police department about Jay Fulmore,” she said in a phone interview. “My relationship was that Jay Fulmore was a good cop,” who was trying to shut down the Game Time Lounge.
Familiar with the case from media accounts, Brincefield indicated she was confused about how she had been involved. After being read the text of Williamson’s e-mail detailing the “Aunt Flossie” tip, she said, “Whoever that officer is, he is an absolute liar.”
Brincefield said she read Bledsoe’s articles.
“He didn’t have his facts together,” she said. “I wrote to The Rhinoceros Times…
I never heard back from the Hammers one way or another.”
In a sworn affidavit on Nov. 19, 2010, Bledsoe said “no one at any time ever came to me or the Rhino Times and said they had evidence contradicting anything that I wrote.” Brincefield said an employee of The Rhinoceros Times e-mailed her back confirming receipt of her e-mail.
One of the main arguments Cohen made on Monday revolved around the fact that nobody contacted the paper to contradict what Bledsoe wrote. Rossabi stated that Bledsoe said in his deposition that he never spoke with the source from the phone call.
Brincefield said she doesn’t believe the Hammers ever saw her e-mail because she thinks they would have used the information.
Both John Hammer and Jerry Bledsoe declined to comment for this story.
Regard for the truth
Rossabi has accused The Rhinoceros Times of “selectively printing material,” and the lawsuit clams the newspaper published what they knew was false or operated with a “reckless disregard” for the truth.
The Rhinoceros Times did not use the information Brincefield said she provided them, and did not attempt to contact her despite the fact that she is listed in the phonebook and was named in Williamson’s e-mail, which Bledsoe acknowledged having received.
Instead, Bledsoe trusted Toomes’ assessment that the “Aunt Flossie” caller was Brincefield and that the source was reliable. Neither appears to be true.
The prosecution barely mentioned items 15 and 16, which they consider libelous for falsely connecting Fulmore to the Game Time Lounge in the most recent court appearance, focusing instead on some of the other 22 points.
Numerous questions remain unanswered in the case including who actually placed the call detailed in the email and why police did not investigate who the caller was more fully. Judge Gregory said he would fax the defense and the prosecution his memorandum at the same time, aiming for the end of April. If the memorandum does not dismiss the case, it will go to a jury trial no less than 60 days later.
Author Van Jones visits Guilford
Van Jones, author of the best-selling book The Green Collar Economy and former White House special advisor for green jobs to the Obama administration, spoke Jan. 19 as part of Guilford College’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations.
Named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009, Jones has also co-founded three nonprofits including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Color of Change and Green for All. He stepped down after six months at the White House due to controversy around his past involvement in a socialist organization, unsubstantiated claims he signed a controversial petition and previous comments he had made.
His talk focused on the connection between traditional social justice work around civil and human rights and environmental and ecological efforts. Jones told students they were ”inheriting a century that will be even more difficult” than the one the Civil Rights Movement faced because of the worsening economy and ecological destruction. He emphasized the need for “green jobs for all” to help fix the problem.
“You cannot imagine a pathway to a future that is just if it’s not green,” Jones said.
Jones spoke earlier in the day to a small group of students, faculty, and staff, and was asked to focus on the topic of vocation.
“I like the work I do. When if feels like a calling and you’re doing the work you were born to do it doesn’t feel like work,” he said. “Sometimes you have a calling to do something that nobody else gets. That’s how you know it’s yours.”
— Eric Ginsburg (photo by Hannah Sherk)