City manager accuses former chief of deception, vindicates maligned lieutenant

by Jordan Green

The Johnson administration – that is, the administration of Greensboro City Manager Mitchell Johnson – has continued its fusillade of returned fire in a heated information war with The Rhinoceros Times by getting city council approval to release a new round of documents and audio recordings.

Johnson said in an Oct. 2 statement that allegations of impropriety by then-Chief David Wray’s administration brought to him by members of the police department in the fall of 2005 “seemed preposterous to me at the time.” Johnson said he initially stood behind Wray and supported the chief’s decision to hold a press conference in June 2005 justifying covert surveillance of Lt. James E. Hinson by alluding to a “multi-jurisdictional criminal investigation” involving federal law enforcement.

Much later, Johnson learned from a report by two veteran internal affairs investigators, DC Thacker and DA Wyrick, that “at the time the decision was made to put the tracker on Hinson’s car, the purpose was to check his time sheet and see if he was involved with prostitutes – special intelligence and internal affairs had cleared Hinson of any involvement or issues from the ‘multi-jurisdictional criminal investigation.’ I believe that this truth is very different from what was presented by Wray on June 17, 2005.”

Johnson issued three stinging criticisms of Wray’s performance.

“After an investigation by the state, our [police] training academy’s accreditation has been placed on probation as a result of the exact allegation that I was informed of,” his statement reads. “Wray’s administration told me that there was no substance to this allegation when I brought it to his attention.”

The statement continues, “Now we are faced with indictments for criminal obstruction of justice by two of our officers. Also, the city is now defending itself from EEOC charges that are the direct result of these activities as well as a lawsuit from an individual who claims to have been held against her will and without arrest by officers in special intelligence…. When I brought these concerns to Chief Wray, he assured me verbally and in writing that ‘the review revealed no actions taken by departmental employees that were not standard practice for the criminal or administrative charges alleged.'”

A third charge centered on allegations of wrongdoing that took place, in part, after Wray’s resignation in January 2006.

“The release of personnel information by the chief since his departure has occurred so often that I believe many in our community feel it is not a serious issue,” the statement reads. “However, North Carolina General Statute 160A-168 makes an unauthorized release of personnel information a Class 3 misdemeanor. Based upon interviews with officers who were present, I believe that Chief Wray did in fact discuss protected personnel information with officers and union officials in his efforts to justify to them his actions regarding Lieutenant Hinson and others.”

Ken Keller, one of Wray’s lawyers, said it was not true that Wray has leaked personnel files spirited out of his office to The Rhinoceros Times and other outlets. He also rejected the charge that Wray broke the law by discussing allegations of wrongdoing by Hinson with the leadership of the Greensboro Police Officers Association.

“It would seem the answer on that would be the [State Bureau of Investigation] doesn’t think so,” he said.

To counter author Jerry Bledsoe’s “Cops in Black & White” series in The Rhinoceros Times, which reached its 41st installment on Oct. 4, the city council took the extraordinary step of authorizing the release of extensive personnel records on Hinson, which would otherwise be protected from public review.

According to Johnson, the report by Thacker and Wyrick provided a “comprehensive and exhaustive review” of allegations against Hinson, including associating with a known drug criminal; assault of a known criminal and general conduct (sex in a police vehicle); working off-duty when scheduled to be on-duty; conducting personal business while on-duty, failure to report a motor vehicle accident; and recommending a security company to a local restaurant chain.

Thacker and Wyrick reportedly expressed surprise that they were asked to review allegations of associating with a known drug criminal and sex in a police vehicle, because the inquiries had already been conducted more than a year earlier. That review had been the culmination of an investigation by Officer Scott Sanders, a member of the special intelligence squad who was indicted last month for criminal obstruction of justice.

“In February of 2004, I was made aware of a criminal investigation involving Lieutenant JE Hinson of the Greensboro Police Department,” wrote Cpl. RL Walton in an internal affairs division memo dated Aug. 13, 2004. “Detective SE Sanders of the intelligence section and Detective [Brian] A. Bissett of the vice/narcotics divisions conducted the aforementioned investigation. Their investigation involved Lieutenant Hinson’s relationship with [several individuals] convicted of federal narcotics violations. Detective Sanders and Bissett also investigated an allegation regarding Lieutenant Hinson assaulting [an unidentified female] as well as his alleged involvement in paying prostitutes for sexual favors. At the conclusion of their investigation, Detectives Sanders and Bissett were unable to find probable cause that indicated Lieutenant Hinson violated any criminal statutes.”

Walton reported that he then conducted an administrative review to determine whether any of Hinson’s actions violated department policies and procedures. He found no evidence to support that finding and concluded that the matter should be closed.

The city released a heavily redacted copy of the Thacker/Wyrick report, which was delivered to Wray in October 2005.

“The investigation revealed there was no information discovered that would show Lieutenant Hinson had any personal association or relationship with [convicted drug dealer Elton Turnbull] other than the sell [SIC] of his (Hinson) home,” Thacker and Wyrick reported. “[Turnbull] reported himself that the only contact with Lieutenant Hinson was by legitimate means (met at Lowe’s where both worked, Hinson coming to [a home on Fieldale Road to collect rent from Toshia Withers], vehicle traffic stop and sell [SIC] of house).

The report continues: “In addition, it should be noted that [Turnbull] had no reason to be untruthful about his relationship with Lieutenant Hinson. On the contrary, he reported to Officer Walton that if he told investigators something that could be proven to be true it would benefit him. On the other hand, if he told investigators something that turned out to be untrue it could hurt him.”

The two investigators recommended that the allegation of association with known criminals be deemed unfounded.

“In the last year some in our community have made the statement to me that Chief Wray was just trying to clean up the department and getting rid of dirty cops,” Johnson states. “Chiefs of police have an absolute obligation to investigate issues and take appropriate actions within the bounds of the law, irrelevant of the public perception of those actions. But that obligation exists for all issues and must always be done within the prescriptions of the law. Supporting on-going investigations of one part of the department, but not taking appropriate action when other valid concerns are brought forward, is not acceptable or appropriate.”

Johnson added that if Wray had taken the initiative back in the summer of 2005 to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the special intelligence section, two police officers might not be facing criminal trial today.

In an Oct. 4 e-mail statement, Keller said Wray acknowledges his responsibility for what occurred under his watch.

“David Wray at all times acted in what he believed to be the best interest of the department and the community, attempting to find a balance between a number of conflicting interests,” he wrote. “Simply put, David performed his job to the best of his ability.”

Thacker and Wyrick also looked into Hinson’s relationship with Toshia Withers, a mistress who also carried on an affair with Turnbull. They reported that Withers told Sanders and Bissett that she and Hinson had not had sex since the arrest of Turnbull. She told them: “He and I don’t even speak anymore since this thing…. Him and I, I guess a month or so after. He just won’t return my calls. I page him, I leave messages and he won’t call me back.”

The detectives were able to locate only two calls from Withers’ cell phone to Hinson’s cell phone, “both of which only lasted one minute. It is unknown if any conversation took place. Lieutenant Hinson stated he never returned her calls.”

“At that point I was not going to make contact with her at all,” Hinson told investigators at the time. “Because, you know I felt as thought there was some criminal activity going on that she would have been involved in and I’m not going to associate with criminals.”

Thacker and Wyrick recommended that the allegations be found not sustained.

Another allegation leveled against Hinson was that he was working off-duty when he was scheduled to be on-duty.

“It would appear Lieutenant Hinson commingled his on-duty/off duty hours, but being an exempt employee [one who has the privilege of working flexible hours] clouds the issue,” Thacker and Wyrick reported. “There is insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove that Lieutenant Hinson was on duty during his off-duty assignment at Cricket Communications on March 18, 2005 and April 29, 2005. There is also insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove that Lieutenant Hinson did not have his required on-duty hours completed prior to working an off-duty assignment on April 13, 2005. Therefore, it is recommended the allegations of working off-duty when scheduled to be on-duty be classified not sustained.”

So concerned was the special intelligence section that Hinson was double-dipping that they attached a global positioning system tracker to his police vehicle and tasked a former special intelligence squad hire-back, Randy Gerringer, with shadowing him. Around that time, the allegation that Hinson was conducting personal business while on-duty also surfaced.

“Lieutenant Hinson, whose statement is consistent with that of Ms. [Barbara] Gainey [UNCG housekeeping supervisor and friend], also stated Captain Oates knew he was going to UNC Greensboro to drop off a bid and he (Oates) never had any objections,” Thacker and Wyrick found. “Captain Oates’ statement is also consistent with that of Lieutenant Hinson concerning this issue. Captain Oates stated he knew Lieutenant Hinson was ‘flirting’ with UNC Greensboro or having an open dialogue, trying to secure a maintenance contract. The investigations found that Hinson’s visits to UNCG ranged from four to 56 minutes.

“As a matter of fact, Captain Oates stated Lieutenant Hinson told him that he had gone to UNC Greensboro once or twice (exact number of occasions unknown) to drop off something,” the report continues. “Captain Oates did not have a problem with Lieutenant Hinson’s actions as long as it didn’t occupy a great deal of time. The facts gathered during this investigation revealed that each of the ten visits by Lieutenant Hinson in the month of May 2005 averaged approximately sixteen minutes and three seconds, which is not a great deal of time.”

The two investigators recommended that Hinson be exonerated on that count.

Another allegation concerned failure to report a motor vehicle accident. Hinson was involved in a single-vehicle accident around 2000. Hinson did not report the accident, but following the recommendation of Berkley Blanks – the watch commander at the time, now retired from the police department and a candidate for city council – he put the vehicle out of service for repair.

Thacker and Wyrick interviewed JK Davis, then chief of police in Dayton, Ohio, and a captain with the Greensboro police at the time of the accident. Davis told the investigators: “If the damage was minor, a supervisor was not held to the same standard as a patrol officer when it comes to damaging a vehicle.”

They recommended that the allegation not be sustained.

Thacker and Wyrick also investigated an allegation that Hinson recommended a security company, whose name is redacted in the document released by the city, to Waffle House restaurants during the 2003 SuperJam concert. The two investigators found that Hinson spoke to Tony Campbell, a district manager for the restaurant chain, to discuss security issues during the annual hip-hop mega-concert at the Coliseum.

“During Mr. Campbell’s interview with Detective Edwards, he (Campbell) reported that even though Lieutenant Hinson did not force the issue, he (Hinson) recommended [redacted] Security when he (Campbell) asked whom he should use,” the report states. Hinson confirmed that he discussed the security company with Campbell but denied he recommended the company.

Thacker and Wyrick found they were unable to substantiate the allegation that Hinson used his badge to pressure the restaurant chain to pay for private security services.

“Due to the fact Mr. Campbell’s statement to Detective Edwards wasn’t recorded electronically and he (Campbell) wasn’t available during this administrative investigation to be re-interviewed, coupled with the facts Officer Menshew stated, ‘I think he just kind of brought them up in the conversation,’ and Lieutenant Hinson denied the allegation, causes one to question whether or not the allegation occurred as reported,” Thacker and Wyrick concluded. “Based on the fact there is insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove this allegation, it is recommended that it be classified not sustained.”

With Thacker and Wyrick finding no substantiation for the allegations against Hinson, Wray declined to approve their recommendations.

“He respectfully disagreed with the conclusion as unsupported by the investigation,” Keller wrote in e-mailed comments on behalf of Wray. “After reviewing the Thacker & Wyrick report with them, his senior staff, and discussing with police attorney Maurice Cawn, David made recommendations to the city manager consistent with what he believed to be appropriate under the circumstances. The city manager disagreed and chose his own course.”

Johnson justified his decision to bring in Raleigh-based Risk Management Associates to scrutinize Wray’s handling of the Hinson investigation and other matters coming to a boil in 2005 by invoking the principle of due process.

“I will always support every officer’s right to a full and complete investigation,” he stated. “If the result of the investigation is that the allegations are not sustained, in other words cannot be supported by the evidence, then the officer deserves to be cleared. And if new issues come to light pertaining to any officer, they will be investigated. All officers will be treated the same.”

The city also released additional audio recordings related to a directive given by former Deputy Chief Randall Brady to Sanders regarding a “problem neighbor” of Wray’s, in which Brady vowed, “Before it’s over with, you and I are going to figure out some way to get her kicked out of that frickin’ place.”

Johnson indicated that the woman eventually moved, but it is unclear whether she did so of her own accord or because of the actions of Sanders.

In one conversation with a neighbor, Sanders is heard saying, “My position in this department is a little different, and it’s probably the only one like it in this department. You know what the CIA is for the feds?”

“You’re a fed?” the neighbor asks incredulously.

“Well no, I’m not a fed,” Sanders replies. “But I guess that’s the best way to explain. That’s kind of what I do for the city.”

“Oh, so you’re like top dog,” the neighbor says.

“Sort of,” Sanders agrees. “I don’t get the pay.” He adds, “I go a lot of strange places and I look at a lot of strange things, a lot of sensitive things.”

To another neighbor, Sanders describes the chief’s bothersome neighbor and outlines his objectives.

“She’s come forward with some very outlandish accusations,” he says. “And what we’re finding out is there’s probably some mental stability there. And that’s what we’re trying to find out – anybody that knew her or can give any background on her.”

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