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Dissident officer reinstated to GPD remains under fire

by Jordan Green

Colleague objects to medical information being disclosed and to characterization of as liar Officer Robert Reyes (left) returned to duty earlier this month after polygraph results were thrown out in an internal investigation into his truthfulness. (photo by Jordan Green)

 

A Greensboro police officer who was reinstated last month following suspension and recommended termination is again under investigation for possibly violating departmental regulations.

Robert Reyes is among a handful of dissident officers who have undergone investigations and disciplinary action over the summer related to his and others’ allegations of discrimination, retaliation and a hostile workplace.

Reyes learned last week that he is under investigation for a possible violation of the department’s directive on conduct towards public and employees for disclosing personal medical information about Officer DA Pinson in an appeal to the city manager and assistant city manager. The official notice includes a statement that the information was published by YES! Weekly, although Reyes’ appeal was posted on the internet by both YES! Weekly and a News & Record reporter. Reyes’ appeal and a follow-up memo raise questions about whether the process the department used in administering polygraph examinations to him and two other officers was rigged to obtain a predetermined result. Reyes alleges that he and Officer MD Royal were subjected to lengthy and stressful interrogations before they took the polygraph, while Pinson was allowed to take anti-anxiety medication before taking his.

Assistant Chief Dwight Crotts and Assistant City Manager Michael Speedling have both said the results of the polygraph were discarded as evidence in determining Reyes’ disposition. Royal was reinstated last week by Chief Ken Miller after being suspended and recommended for termination based on a charge of being untruthful. Miller made the decision to reinstate Royal without holding a formal hearing and after speaking with the officer and other employees and reviewing a videotape and other documents.

Pinson confirmed to YES! Weekly that he filed an internal complaint about the inclusion of information about his medication in Reyes’ appeal.

“You’re damn right,” he said. “It’s nobody’s business.”

Pinson said he takes a prescribed daily dosage of Citalopram, an antidepressant sold under the brand name Celexa. Other uses of the prescription drug, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the US National Library of Medicine, are treatment for panic disorder and social phobia, which is defined as “excessive anxiety about interacting with others.”

Noting that he has no knowledge about how the polygraphs were administered to Reyes and Royal, Pinson rejected the notion that his polygraph process was rigged or that his use of Citalopram would tend to result in a false reading. He said takes a regular quantity of 10 milligrams of Citalopram, half of the recommended dose, which does not change his mood from moment to moment.

“I took the polygraph five times and was told I passed,” he said. “I was not coached. I walked into the office and sat down, and was told to submit to a polygraph. I had to go to the bathroom. I was followed to the bathroom when I had to go to the bathroom. I was followed to go get a drink.”

Chief Miller said last week that he sees no cause to investigate the way the polygraphs were administered, adding that the department needs to have some internal “dialogue about when and how we use polygraphs.” “I have an opinion about how a polygraph should be administered,” he said. “They didn’t do anything wrong, but it was inconsistent with the way I think it should be used if we’re going to treat employees the way they deserve to be treated.”

Following his reinstatement, Reyes has characterized Pinson’s testimony in his Aug. 27 administrative hearing as “unequivocal lying” in a document appealing Crotts’ reprimand.

Pinson said last week that he takes strong issue with the characterization and sought to defend his reputation as a police officer.

“If I was found to be lying I would not have a job,” he said. “If I lied about something petty like Cherry being fired, then what leg would I have to stand on in a court of law? It didn’t happen. I want it to be clear that I was not found to be unequivocally lying. It’s detrimental to my career to have that out there, and it’s not true. If I was, then I would be investigated and there would be a hearing. Will there be an investigation and a hearing? No, there won’t be.”

The initial investigation of Reyes took place because of a remark Reyes allegedly overheard Pinson make about Cherry’s employment status.

Pinson said he received a June 17 mass e-mail sent out by Cherry to clarify his employment status as on administrative duty pending a fitness-for-duty evaluation. Pinson and Reyes were assigned to the Western Division. Cherry inadvertently included Pinson in the e-mail because he confused him with another officer with the same last name. The e-mail was intended for officers in the Eastern Division under Cherry’s command.

“I wanted to work in Eastern Division because I liked Captain Cherry,” Pinson said. “When he walked into a room, he held out his hand and said, ‘Charles Cherry.’ He never said, ‘I’m Captain Cherry.’ That’s another reason I reported it is because I could end up working for the man. You can get transferred just like that. I’ve said that from Day I: that I liked him.”

Pinson and Reyes’ accounts remain at odds. Describing the remark Pinson was alleged to have made during the Western Division lineup back in June, Reyes told his supervisor, Sgt. CB Isom, during an Aug. 5 administrative interview: “He walked in and he just blurted out that Captain Cherry, he heard that Captain Cherry had got fired.”

Pinson unequivocally denied making the statement in an interview last week. (About six weeks after the incident in question, Cherry was, in fact, fired by Crotts, who was acting in the capacity of chief.)

“Absolutely not,” Pinson said. “I did not say that. If he heard it right then, why didn’t he ask me then?” The controversy quickly embroiled a third officer, MD Royal.

“Pinson leaned over, said, ‘I heard Captain Cherry got fired,’” Reyes told Isom. “So I looked over at Royal. I said, ‘See, that’s how rumors get started.’” Cherry told City Manager Rashad Young in a memo at the time that on June 19 he received a phone call from Reyes informing him that Pinson had stated to another officer that Cherry had been fired. Cherry called Assistant Chief Holder and informed her of the alleged remark, offering his opinion to Holder that that the alleged remark lent credence to his decision to inform his officers of his administrative status.

Two days later, Cherry met Holder in her office and they spoke again about Pinson’s alleged statement.

“In continued defense of sending the e-mail, I again used Officer Pinson as an example as to why it was a good idea for me to have sent the e-mail” Cherry told Young by memo. “I then informed Assistant Chief Holder that I could have filed a malicious gossip complaint on Officer Pinson. However, he is a young officer. It wasn’t a big deal to me and it was one of the reasons I sent the e-mail (to dispel rumors and malicious gossip). Assistant Chief Holder agreed with my reasoning for not filing a complaint.”

On June 25, Cherry said Reyes contacted him and told him that he had spoken to Pinson about the matter.

“Officer Reyes described Officer Pinson as somewhat apprehensive, especially because Officer Reyes had mentioned Officer Pinson’s name to me,” Cherry wrote. “I thanked Officer Reyes for confirming the information, correcting Officer Pinson, and informed Officer Reyes that he had done the right thing. I also informed Officer Reyes that if he wanted, he could reassure Officer Pinson that I didn’t have an issue with anything that was said, especially because the e-mail was available, if anyone was concerned, relating to my status.”

As Reyes later described it to Isom, Pinson had some holiday time to burn through and he didn’t want to bother him at home, so he waited until he saw him next on duty during SuperJamz, a hip hop event at the Greensboro Coliseum that ties up significant police resources.

“I waited and spoke directly with him about it as a friend to friend,” Reyes said. “Just… hey, just so you know I went to the horse’s mouth and found out what you heard is not in fact true, okay. Him possibly getting caught up in anything malicious or anything, any gossip going on.”

Pinson said Reyes’ remarks came as a surprise.

“He came up to me and said Capt. Cherry wasn’t fired,” Pinson said. “I said, ‘I know he’s not fired.’ He said, ‘I went to the source. I went to Cherry and he told me he hadn’t been fired.’ He said he told Cherry: ‘Pinson’s telling people that you were fired.’” Pinson said he had no intention of getting Reyes in trouble.

“I reported it to my sergeant, Isom, to address it and make it clear that I wasn’t disrespecting a commanding officer,” Pinson said.

“It was not my decision to file a complaint. I just wanted the air cleared.”

Pinson said he didn’t consider reaching out privately to Cherry to clarify that he hadn’t made the statement because his understanding about protocol is that officers of his rank don’t directly approach commanders who are not in their chain of command.

Cherry said that around the time of July 1 Reyes contacted him to let him know that Isom was investigating him for malicious gossip.

According to independent anonymous sources, Royal has made contradictory statements about whether Pinson made the remark about Cherry’s having been fired and has sought to avoid taking sides.

“As far as Officer Royal, I have respect for him,” Pinson said. “That’s why it caught me off guard that he heard I said Cherry had been fired. I have respect for the guy. I thought we were friends.”

Pinson said that past experience told him not to let the incident with Reyes go unreported.

Earlier this year, Reyes had been monitored by officers who documented his performance and turned over the notes to a former supervisor, Sgt. Barwick. He has asserted in his appeal that “these actions were because I reported what I believed to be excessive force by a fellow officer.”

Crotts has characterized the assertion as “wholly inaccurate.”

Pinson said he was searching a vehicle in the incident in which Reyes alleged that another, unnamed officer used excessive force on a subject.

“I was called as a witness to testify in the administrative hearing,” Pinson said. “The officer ended up being exonerated…. That’s the reason I wanted it cleared up. I didn’t want to be involved a second time. You jam me up the first time. It won’t happen again.”

Reyes tells City Manager Rashad Young in a recent memo that he has continued to experience discrimination, retaliation, harassment, intimidation and a hostile work environment following his reinstatement, including being placed in the professional standards program. He declined to comment for this story. Chief Miller said he had planned last week to name a disciplinary committee to examine the department’s policies and practices. “And that committee is a very diverse committee in rank, gender and race,” he said.

“And it includes sworn and non-sworn employees. We are going to explore all aspects of our disciplinary process, including our conduct rules, including our internal investigative process and our discipline processes. That process will include some clear direction and debate abut the need to reach into our core values — honesty, integrity, respect — that we value employees, but in the end I will accept nothing less than a process that commands the public’s trust and treats every employee fairly and with dignity and respect.”

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