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City manager discloses chief’s cover-up of racial profiling within police department

by Jordan Green

In a rare display of transparency Jan. 10, the city of Greensboro acknowledged a campaign of harassment against black police officers, some of whom have been on the receiving end of a ‘“continued pursuit of unproven, previously investigated, and unsubstantiated charges’” by the Police Department’s special intelligence section.

Black officers have also been singled out in a so-called ‘“black book’” arranged as a lineup typically used by police to allow victims to identify suspects, City Manager Mitchell Johnson told reporters. The exact purpose of the book, which includes photos of 19 black officers and which was created by special intelligence, remains unclear.

Worse yet, former Chief David Wray, who resigned only a day before the city manager’s revelations, covered up the racial profiling campaign within the department and the existence of the ‘“black book.’”

Assistant Chief Tim Bellamy, who is black, was immediately appointed as interim chief following Wray’s departure.

The revelation of the report’s findings came at the culmination of a series of dramatic personnel actions taken against Wray by Johnson over the past month.

Johnson received a city-commissioned report on racial profiling within the department from Raleigh-based Risk Management Associates on Dec. 21. At the prompting of department employees who told Johnson they feared Wray might take inappropriate personnel actions when the report was received, the city manager stripped the chief of his power to hire, fire and promote.

Johnson said he met with Wray on Jan. 6 to discuss the contents of the report. He told the chief he could take the weekend to determine whether ‘“he was able to present information which would place the totality of the report in doubt.’” Johnson also locked Wray out of his office ‘“to insure that any information related to the report which may exist was not disturbed.’”

On Jan. 9, Wray submitted his resignation, publicly stating, ‘“I have not knowingly shared any information I did not believe to be true, nor have I acted in bad faith. I have as, as I believe the occasion required, consulted with others, including senior staff, law enforcement leaders and our police attorney.’”

The former police chief has not been available to respond to follow-up questions. Johnson said the last time he spoke to him was Jan. 6.

The City Council voted unanimously to allow the city manager to release the information about the circumstances of Wray’s departure, following a state statute that allows city managers with the approval of council to release information about the reasons for a disciplinary action taken against an employee if it’s deemed essential to maintaining public confidence.

‘“We based our decision in that it was important to release this because of confusion and distrust and rumors in the police department and to restore public confidence,’” Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson said.

At the heart of public distrust and confusion over racial profiling of black officers was special intelligence’s investigation of Lt. James Hinson. City Manager Johnson said Wray failed to inform him that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies had determined that the lieutenant had been cleared of any criminal liability in 2003, but nonetheless asserted that an investigation was ongoing in June 2005 when he put Hinson on administrative leave. Hinson officially returned to active duty on the police force on Jan. 11.

‘“I regret the way in which Lieutenant Hinson’s case was handled and wish him success in his continued career with the Greensboro Police Department,’” Johnson said.

Johnson said Wray initially told him he was unaware of the existence of a document that fit the description of the ‘“black book.’” But ‘“when the possible existence of the book became known to the public,’” Johnson said, ‘“Chief Wray instructed a subordinate to hide and secure the book and did not inform his superior or its true existence and actual purpose.’”

Johnson also said Wray covered up the activities of the special intelligence section.

‘“The special intelligence section or members therein, of the Greensboro Police Department were not operating within the normal chain of command and failed to follow established departmental rules and procedures,’” Johnson said. ‘“The activities of this unit and its continued pursuit of unproven, previously investigated and unsubstantiated charges against certain African-American officers created an atmosphere of fear, distrust and suspicion, which undermined the department’s morale and efficiency.’”

On Jan. 9, Johnson said special intelligence was reassigned to report to Capt. Gary Hastings, who oversees criminal investigations. Under Wray, special intelligence had reported to Deputy Chief Randall Brady, who resigned after being interviewed for the report. The internal affairs section was reassigned to report directly to Chief Bellamy. Previously it had reported to Capt. Matt Lojko, head of professional standards, who also resigned during the completion of the report.

Bellamy said he hadn’t been aware of the existence of the ‘“black book’” before he was appointed interim chief, but he believes the targeting of black officers was initiated by the special intelligence section, not the former chief.

‘“Some of those actions originated with that unit before Chief Wray,’” Bellamy told YES! Weekly. ‘“Hinson was cleared in 2003, and Chief Wray came on in mid-July of 2003.’”

Sgt. William T. Fox, who heads the five-person special intelligence section, declined to discuss who initiated the investigation of Lt. Hinson and other black officers or to discuss whether a climate of white racism prevails in special intelligence.

‘“I think what I’m describing is activity that targeted African American officers,’” Johnson said. ‘“Whether it represents systematic racism is yet to be determined. I’m working with Chief Bellamy to make sure any practices such as this are discontinued. Starting right now, we’re no longer allowing special intelligence to investigate officers in the department.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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