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Greensboro police officer fired after YouTube video airs complaint

by Jordan Green

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During his campaign for mayor of Greensboro two years ago, then-challenger Bill Knight declared, “We’ve got some serious problems in the police department that need to be addressed.” He added, “I would like to be sure going forward that as we select new administration into the police department command group that we’re doing it based on ability and qualifications.”

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Before Knight was even elected, the council had hired a new city manager. And by the time the new mayor had completed his first term, the city had a new police chief. Knight’s first year saw significant turmoil in the police department with a succession officers who had complained about discrimination and retaliation being terminated. Despite the controversy, the entire council backed the new city manager’s handling of the personnel disputes. And more recently sharp disagreements over the reopening of the White Street Landfill have pushed police turmoil out of the public discourse.

Last month, Deborah Thomas joined the ranks of a handful of non-white officers whose terminations have been upheld by City Manager Rashad Young after complaining about discrimination and retaliation. Of significant note, only grievances that include a claim of discrimination or retaliation for reporting violations of law receive a hearing from the city manager; others receive final disposition from the chief of police.

According to her complaint, Thomas had been suspended without pay and recommended for termination last summer by interim Chief Dwight Crotts, along with about six other officers. When Ken Miller was appointed chief last September, he reinstated Thomas, along with another officer, MD Royal, who had been investigated for truthfulness related to the status of Charles Cherry, a former police captain ultimately fired after assisting officers with grievances. As evidence of discrimination, Thomas states that she was reinstated with two depart mental reprimands while Royal was brought back to duty with a clean record.

Thomas referenced Cherry’s troubles with the police command in her appeal of termination in April.

“I and many other city employees have been intimidated from filing grievances, when former Captain Cherry was mandated to undergo a psychological fitness for duty for filing grievances” she wrote.

City Manager Rashad Young told Thomas in his response to her appeal that she had bypassed the chain of command and defied directions from her supervisor.

“You assert, as a basis for bypassing your entire chain of command and repeated unwillingness to follow departmental directives, allegations of discrimination, retaliation, harassment, intimidation and hostile work environment against every level of supervision in your chain of command such that the only purported avenue by which to grieve is with the city manager,” he said. “However, I can determine no basis upon which to substantiate your claims. Your disagreement with how policy is applied, its interpretation and the finding of administrative investigations, is not a sufficient or legal basis to claim discrimination, harassment, etc.”

The Rev. Nelson Johnson, whom Thomas enlisted as a confidential counselor through the police department’s employee assistance program, has written a number of letters to Young on her behalf. Thomas acknowledged in her termination appeal that she allowed Johnson to “maintain and listen to recordings of conversations” between herself and Sgt. DJ Davis, who heads the department’s warrant squad, “so that he could provide counseling.”

Thomas wrote, “I have been informed that Reverend Johnson and the Beloved Community Center placed the information on YouTube. This was done without my knowledge or solicitation. I was also informed that Reverend Johnson informed you and Chief Ken Miller that I had no knowledge of the making of and did not solicit the making of or posting of the YouTube audio.”

Young upheld a finding by Chief Miller that Thomas violated directives on obedience to orders and procedural steps by taking her grievances outside of the chain of command. The city manager also upheld the chief’s finding that the YouTube video violated the department’s general conduct directive.

“In violation of this directive, you provided a third party an audio tape you made between yourself and your supervisory, which was later used on YouTube for the purpose of attempting to discredit the Greensboro Police Department,” Young wrote. “The city was constrained from providing an appropriate response to the leaked recording because personnel matters are confidential under NCGS 160A-168. You are responsible for the use or misuse of confidential information you deliver to persons acting on your behalf. Your actions in releasing the recording to a third party fostered speculation and mistrust of your chain of command and of your employer.”

In the YouTube video, then Officer Thomas can be asking Sgt. DJ Davis: “How you investigating yourself.”

“Uh, because I was directed to,” Davis responds. “See?” Thomas says. Davis then says, “And I will continue to keep doing the same thing that I’m directed to. You didn’t put my name — first of all, I have to do a response to the one that you put my name in. I’ll do that, too. Because guess what? It came from the city manager. And if it comes from the city manager, comes down through my chain, I do what my boss tells me to do. He directs me to do something, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities.”

The video had received 2,622 views as of Monday evening.

Davis wrote in a memo last November:

“Officer Thomas, after analyzing the allegations in your complaint dated October 22, 2010 to City Manager Rashad Young and in accordance with DD 3.9.4, I find that you not present any evidence which would substantiate and/or qualify any actions taken toward you as discriminatory, retaliatory, intimidating, hostile and/ or unwarranted disciplinary actions taken against you.”

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The document finding no merit in allegations against Sgt. DJ Davis is signed by Sgt. Dj Davis. The subject line of the document reads, “Response to complaint of continued discrimination, retaliation, intimidation harassment, hostile work environment, threats of unwarranted disciplinary action to include recorded conversations in which Sergeant DJ Davis acknowledges, as if proper, Sergeant Davis’s investigation of my complaint against Sergeant Davis, Sergeant Davis’s supervisor (Lieutenant GA Hunt) and others.”

The city manager wrote in his July 15 termination letter to Thomas: “The Greensboro Police Department does not allow supervisors to investigate themselves. You were informed by your supervisor on October 7, 2010, that it is the Greensboro Police Department’s policy that employees make every effort to resolve issues informally through conferences with their supervisor and if not satisfied, then through their chain of command.

Young’s letter indicates that Thomas has filed “multiple charges of discrimination” with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Such action is the first step in initiating a lawsuit against an employer.

Thomas, who lives in Oak Ridge, could not be reached for comment for this story. The city manager’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

“As a paramilitary organization the success of the Greensboro Police Department depends largely upon its employees’ respect for their chain of command, their obedience to orders and their good judgment,” Young said in his termination letter to Thomas. “Regrettably, your conduct failed to meet this most basic requirement.”

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