GPD captain levels charge of incompetence against his department, along with discrimination

by Jordan Green

A police captain and a local NAACP president renewed a call for a US Justice Department investigation of the Greensboro Police Department last week.

Capt. Charles Cherry has been on administrative leave since June 7, when his commander, Assistant Chief Dwight Crotts, recommended him for a fitness-for-duty evaluation. Since that time, both Cherry’s personal psychologist and one chosen by the department have declared the captain to be mentally fit. Cherry recently received an official notification from Assistant Chief Anita Holder stating that he had been deemed fit for duty, but is still on administrative duty pending the outcome of internal investigations concerning the truthfulness of statements in numerous grievances filed against police and employees up the chain of command, including Chief Tim Bellamy.

A second officer, AJ Blake, who received Cherry’s assistance in drafting a grievance, is also being investigated regarding the truthfulness of past statements. Blake has been suspended without pay with a recommendation for termination. The grievances — both those Cherry filed on his own behalf and other officers — were among the reasons cited by Crotts for his recommendation that Cherry be evaluated for fitness for duty.

Blake’s grievance concerns an allegation that Holder had an officer under her command order him into a police vehicle and bring him up to her office for a dressing down while he was off duty and observing a protest staged by area pastors to highlight what they call a “culture of corruption.” Cherry, Blake and a street group known as the Latin Kings that has been the target of an aggressive suppression effort by the police are currently consulting with lawyers about the possibility of filing lawsuits against the city alleging civil rights violations.

“I am aware that Captain Cherry has submitted several grievances to appropriate departmental personnel,” wrote Dr. Nanette Funderburk, the captain’s personal psychologist, in an evaluation last month. “These submittals appear to be reasonable reactions to identifiable challenges in the work environment.”

The desire of much of the command staff to get rid of the dissident captain is reflected in a Fourth quarter performance evaluation given by Crotts earlier this month rating Cherry a Level I following three successive Level IV ratings. Crotts cited Cherry’s numerous grievances as the reason for the low rating. Level V is the highest rating an officer may receive.

Then the assistant chief issued a cumulative rating of Level I for Cherry’s annual evaluation. An appeal to Chief Bellamy resulted in the captain’s annual evaluation being changed to a Level II.

Repeating an earlier message to City Manager Rashad Young, Cherry suggested in a June 22 letter that all internal investigations into grievances and complaints be halted and the Justice Department be brought in to look into allegations of corruption in the police department. Cherry also suggested that the retirement of Chief Bellamy be delayed until an outside investigation could be completed. Bellamy is scheduled to put in his last day on Friday, and Crotts has been appointed interim chief beginning on Aug. 1. The city manager is currently evaluating two outside candidates for the position of chief.

Other recommendations made by Cherry:

“Make any internal adjustments to ensure the best possible city services during this challenging time. Think outside the box. This may even involve a temporary operational merger with other law enforcement agencies (example sheriff’s department). Once the investigation is concluded, make swift, fair, consistent, compassionate decisions as it relates to personnel. That can range from counseling to termination. This will be tough, but make it about right and wrong which will umbrella all other relevant factors. Admit any mistakes made, to include even if you made any. Make any public apologies warranted. Bring in your new chief, not on a bed of corruption, so that they will have a fair chance to succeed.”

And finally: “Lead our city.” Asked if he would respond to the recommendations and allegations in Cherry’s letter, Young had a succinct answer: “No.”

Four out of six pages in the memo are comprised of a litany of supporting facts buttressing Cherry’s expressed belief that Bellamy, Crotts and Assistant City Manager Michael Speedling are “incompetent, discriminatory, retaliatory, harassing and creating a hostile work environment” for the captain and other black officers.

Notably, Chief Bellamy is also black, as is Young.

Cherry’s letter was forwarded to the nine members of Greensboro City Council, along with 310 other recipients, by the secretary to the Rev. Cardes Brown, president of the Greensboro branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Brown urged council members to review the letter and direct the city manager “to contact the Department of Justice to launch an investigation of the Greensboro Police Department.”

Mayor Bill Knight and Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan did not return calls for this story.

Cherry’s most recent grievance, made to the city manager on July 16, sheds some light on the investigation into whether the captain’s earlier statements have been untruthful.

Cherry wrote that he spoke with Sgt. AT McHenry in the professional standards division on July 16 about Cherry’s allegation that Bellamy led a group of black officers in organizing a federal discrimination lawsuit during the waning days of former Chief David Wray’s administration. Cherry’s letter suggests that he and McHenry became embroiled in an argument when Cherry refused to sign a waiver of attorney-client privilege so that McHenry could obtain information from Ken Free, a local lawyer who is representing Cherry, Blake and 37 other black officers in

the discrimination lawsuit.

In his July 22 letter, Cherry reiterated his assertion that Bellamy played a leading role in organizing the lawsuit, noting that Bellamy has denied the allegation to Speedling.

“Chief Bellamy, by virtue of being the ranking officer at meetings, encouraging and coaching those officers that confronted former Chief David Wray, filling out an EEOC complaint form and then having an officer retrieve and destroy his form (only upon being named interim or acting chief), and continu[ing] to encourage officers to go forth with a lawsuit,” Cherry wrote, “was clearly part of the EEOC lawsuit.”

In support of his statement that the incoming interim chief is incompetent and discriminatory, Cherry alleges that Crotts’ direct subordinate, Capt. John Wolfe, stated in a command staff meeting that he “did not trust the officers on the EEOC lawsuit.”

“Assistant Chief Crotts did not correct or redirect Captain Wolfe,” Cherry said. “Assistant Chief Crotts agreed with Captain Wolfe, stating that he also did not trust the officers. Unless Assistant Chief Crotts can speak to each of the 39 officers and articulate why he doesn’t trust them, the statement is clearly discriminatory and retaliatory. My case is a great example, and so is Officer Blake’s.”

Before being placed on suspension without pay in January 2009 while under investigation for assault charges for which he was eventually acquitted, Blake served on the gang enforcement unit. The unit heavily targeted the Latin Kings in 2008 and 2009. Wolfe was its commander. While awaiting his jury trial, Blake publicly charged that the gang unit has abused its authority in its treatment of the Latin Kings, that officers have used anti-Latino slurs and that the department has handled discipline in a discriminatory manner.

When Blake returned to duty after a jury acquitted him and after an interim city manager overturned a decision by Chief Bellamy to terminate him, Blake said Wolfe demeaned him in front of his fianc’e by calling him “a sorry sack of shit.” Officers are prohibited by directive from using profane and derogatory language against one another. Speedling told YES! Weekly that Wolfe’s remark and other instances of mistreatment towards Blake were internally investigated, and action was taken against a supervisor, although he did not specifically name Wolfe.

Cherry also alleges that during a meeting with an officer who had filed a grievance, Speedling told the officer that the results of an internal investigation were due to “incompetence and discrimination” by professional standards.

“The investigation is riddled with errors,” Cherry wrote. “At this point, Mr. Speedling has a duty and responsibility to take proper corrective action, to include a re-investigation of all investigations completed by the individuals assigned to the professional standards division during the time when Mr. Speedling made his assessment. Instead of that occurring, the officer (with the original grievance) is now being investigated for truthfulness, regarding the same investigation in which professional standards made so many errors [and] the findings were recommended changed (in the officer’s favor) by Assistant Chief Crotts.”

Speedling responded, “My comments having to do with an investigation have to do with one investigation, period. I do not make that leap of faith that Cherry does that if one investigation is investigatively insufficient that the entire professional standards division is incapable.”

Speedling added that he sent the investigation in question back to professional standards and ordered them to re-investigate it, and that the errors were corrected.

While Cherry and other officers with grievances against the department are being investigated for truthfulness, Cherry is leveling the accusation that Speedling has been untruthful in characterizing his administrative status as “medical leave” to media outlets.

The escalating allegations and counter investigations indicate that, at the very least, one or another faction in city government and the police department has difficulty with truthfulness and getting its facts straight.

“Mr. Speedling continues to allow professional standards to operate, business as usual, to include the investigation of officers with grievances/complaints against professional standards,” Cherry continued. “What does this mean for our agency and for our citizens?”