Five GPD officers with grievances against department face disciplinary action and possible firing

by Jordan Green

Three Greensboro police officers with pending grievances in the department have been suspended without pay and recommended for termination in the span of a week in what appears to be an effort to purge perceived troublemakers before the new chief takes office on Sept. 1.

A fourth officer, AJ Blake, was suspended without pay and recommended for termination last month for allegedly making “inaccurate and incomplete” statements and engaging in “malicious gossip” when he spoke at a press conference more than a year ago at New Light Missionary Baptist Church in which the officer argued that he had been the victim of disparate treatment in a disciplinary matter, and for purportedly displaying an “ongoing pattern of poor judgment.”

The most prominent of the officers facing termination is Capt. Charles Cherry, who was commander of the Eastern patrol division at the time he was placed on administrative leave in early June. The Rev. Cardes Brown, the president of the Greensboro branch of the NAACP and an advocate for the officers, said that Cherry’s disciplinary status stems a general conduct charge related to a June 17 e-mail that the captain sent out to his troops to explain a recommendation for fitness-for-duty pscychological evaluation and a malicious gossip and truthfulness infraction related to a statement he made that former Chief Tim Bellamy had at one time been a complainant in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matter that is now pending in the federal courts. Cherry was deemed by the department to be fit for duty following evaluations by two separate psychologists. The captain’s recommendation for evaluation by Assistant Chief Dwight Crotts referenced his role in drafting the grievances, but the full reason has never been explained by police administration.

Like Blake, Officer Joseph Pryor has received assistance in drafting a grievance from Cherry. All three officers are plaintiffs in the federal discrimination lawsuit. Pryor was suspended without pay and recommended for termination on Aug. 4. Cherry’s turn came the next day. Pryor faces termination on the basis that information in his grievance was allegedly untruthful and constituted malicious gossip, Brown said.

A fourth officer, Robert Reyes, was suspended with pay and recommended for termination on Monday. In a memo to City Manager Rashad Young on Monday, Cherry said that Reyes had contacted him in June out of concern after Officer DA Pinson in the Western patrol division stated that Cherry had been fired. Cherry assured Reyes that he had not been fired, and Reyes reportedly mentioned it to Pinson. Cherry told Assistant Chief Anita Holder that he could have filed a malicious gossip complaint against Pinson, but he opted not to do so.

Cherry said in his memo to Young on Monday that Reyes learned in early July that he was being investigated for malicious gossip as to whether or not Pinson made the comment about Cherry being fired based on a complaint by Pinson. Cherry indicated that Reyes has stood by his statement that Pinson commented that Cherry had been fired.

Reyes, a Hispanic officer, is not a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, unlike the other three officers facing termination.

Crotts, who is now serving as interim chief, confirmed on Monday that a fifth officer, MD Royal, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation for truthfulness. Cherry wrote in his memo to the city manager today that Reyes turned to Royal during the lineup at which Pinson’s remarks were made and stated, “That is how rumors get started.” Cherry wrote that Reyes and Royal were both ordered to take polygraph tests to determine their truthfulness about the remark they overheard Pinson making.

Should Crotts render a decision in favor of termination, as is expected, Cherry, like the other officers, will likely appeal it up to the city manager level. But Young indicated in a July 29 personnel memo to Cherry that he feels little sympathy for his position.

“You contend that your recitation of your fitness-for-duty memorandum was an effort to dispel gossip, build trust, and continue the bond you have with your officers,” the city manager wrote. “I find that explanation disingenuous. Your purpose in reading your fitness-for-duty memorandum along with your elaboration on its merits was for the express purpose for exposing what you believed to be the ‘ultimate plan’ to terminate your employment and attack your leadership, as you stated in your June 14 memorandum.

“Your decision to both e-mail members of the department and read from the memo at line-up was clearly to cause disruption, stimulate rancor and discontent, and advance your theory of motivation and intent,” Young continued. “That is not the appropriate venue to make your argument and does not comport with the established procedures in the complaint resolution or grievance process.”

Cherry has told Young in a number of memos that he has access to an interview conducted by professional standards investigator MN Loy “omitting information in an investigation” of Pryor “that absolutely changes the course,” and that certain officers who should have been investigated instead were not subjected to scrutiny.

“Even after Mike Speedling, the assistant city manager, in reviewing Officer Pryor’s grievance, said that either [professional standards] was incompetent or discriminatory, he wrote in your paper that that was only applied to one case,” Brown said. “The man was suspended without pay even after the assistant city manager said with regard to Pryor’s case that [professional standards] was either incompetent or discriminatory?” Speedling was quoted in a July 28 YES!

Weekly article as saying that his comments referenced only one investigation. He added, “I do not make the leap of faith that Cherry does that if one investigation is investigatively insufficient that the entire professional standards division is incapable.”

Cherry and Brown have asked how Speedling could determine that one professional standards investigation reflected discrimination or incompetence, but remain unconcerned about whether any and all investigations undertaken by the same officer might have also been tainted. How can any officers under investigation by professional standards — currently including Cherry, Pryor, Blake, Reyes and Royal — feel confident they will receive a fair and competent investigation, they ask. Or, for that matter, how can citizens filing complaints feel confident in the work of professional standards?

“Comprehend that discrimination and incompetence are not technical errors you can change by sending an investigation back to the offenders,” Cherry wrote in a July 30 memo to Young. “Comprehend that you must correct and deal with (investigation, disciplinary action) the offenders, to include finding out why the discrimination and incompetence occurred.”

Cherry has stated in his correspondence to Young that after Speedling remanded the internal investigation of Pryor back to professional affairs, then-Assistant Chief Dwight Crotts changed the determination to “unfounded.”

“The only thing I can tell you is I have full confidence in that unit,” Crotts told YES! Weekly last week.

Cherry has urged the city, so far without avail, to request an outside investigation of the police department by the US Justice Department, contending that those in positions of authority within the department are so deeply implicated in the grievances that they no longer have the ability to render fair decisions.

Brown said that during a command review meeting Capt. John Wolfe remarked that he didn’t trust any of the officers who are plaintiffs in the federal discrimination lawsuit, and that Crotts agreed, saying that he didn’t trust the officers either.

“Officer Pryor has to go before Dwight Crotts for his termination hearing,” Brown said. “He will likely uphold termination because he said he doesn’t trust the officers on the suit, and Pryor is one of them, just like Cherry and Blake are. The question should be asked of him: ‘Could you be unbiased?’” Crotts responded in an interview: “I can absolutely be impartial.”

The interim chief said that he doesn’t recall the conversation in which he is alleged to have said that he doesn’t trust the officers in the discrimination suit. Wolfe, who was also reached by phone, denied outright having made the statement, saying, “Those are not my words. I’m not going to comment on it.”

Young told YES! Weekly last week that he has yet to render a decision on at least one grievance filed by Cherry. Filed on July 22, the grievance contends that an official decision by

Assistant Chief Anita Holder deeming him fit for duty following two separate psychological evaluations confirmed a pattern of incompetence and unfair treatment.

“Interim Chief Crotts, through discrimination, retaliation and abuse of power, recommends me for a fit for duty psychological assessment, for which Chief Crotts cannot begin to justify,” Cherry wrote earlier this week. Crotts declined to comment, calling the matter “a personnel issue.”

Cherry wrote, “Interim Chief Crotts utilizes as his reasoning (for fit for duty psychological evaluation), the fact that I wrote or assisted in writing grievances. This sentence alone is clearly an act of retaliation.”

Crotts responded that he doesn’t consider his reference to Cherry’s grievances to be evidence of retaliation.

Cherry has protested to Young that his grievances are either not investigated or are receiving inadequate attention, while complaints against him and other officers with grievance appear to pursued with zeal.

Cherry informed Young that on June 24 Sgt. AT McHenry notified him that he was investigating him for a possible violation of the department’s truthfulness directive. The suspended captain quotes McHenry’s notification memo as saying that Cherry stated in a complaint that, “Chief TR Bellamy was a complainant on an EEOC lawsuit filed originally by approximately 44 minority officers by former chief against police David Wray. Chief Bellamy, then an assistant chief, assisted in galvanizing officers together as it related to discriminatory, unfair practices of former Chief David Wray and former Chief Wray’s administration. Then Assistant Chief TR Bellamy applied to be chief of police and just prior to appointment to chief of police, withdrew his name from the lawsuit. Chief Bellamy has denied that he has ever been part of the EEOC lawsuit.”

Brown said that, in fact, Bellamy had been part of the initial complaint.

“The chief had indicated his intent to be part of the EEOC suit by sending a letter to attorney Ken Free indicating such, but after being appointed chief, he sent Steve Hunter, a police officer, to retrieve the letter and ordered him to destroy it,” Brown said. “There is a letter that states this that has been written by Steve Hunter.”

Neither Free nor Hunter could be reached for comment for this story.

“It seems like the city would rather just pay off a suit rather than dealing with a subculture of corruption,” Brown said. “I keep thundering and asking resoundingly the question: If the department is as clean a the city manager, assistant city manager and chief say it is, what harm would it do, what is the reason the Justice Department cannot affirm that what they say is the case? For the citizens, there can be no other conclusion we can draw other than it is a cover-up.”

Young said he has strived to make decisions objectively based on the information at hand, and will continue to do so.

“Certainly I want to limit the city’s risk and the city’s exposure,” he said. “I make decisions based on the policy direction that I get, what the right thing fundamentally is to do and the professional thing is to do. If we get sued because of that, then we’ll address that and deal with it.”

To date, much of the cry for reform in the police department has come from the Rev. Brown and other African-American pastors who are members of the Pulpit Forum. That changed, as of Tuesday, when a group of white citizens, including the Rev. Randall Keeney, the Rt. Rev. Chip Marble and former Mayor Carolyn Allen were scheduled to give a press conference to address what they called “the growing crisis in the Greensboro Police Department.”