Judge orders city to pay retirement benefits to former deputy police chief

by Jordan Green

A former deputy police chief who abruptly retired from the Greensboro Police Department after being interviewed by a city-commissioned investigative group hired to look into alleged improprieties in the department won a legal battle on Feb. 7 when a federal judge ordered the city to pay retirement benefits withheld over the past year.

The order by Judge Carlton Tilley Jr. cites three eligibility requirements set forth in state law to support his conclusion that Randall Brady should receive retirement benefits. The order notes that Brady had more than 30 years of creditable service under his belt and had completed five years of continuous service as a law enforcement officer at the end of his career, thus meeting the eligibility requirements. Brady joined the Greensboro Police Department in 1981 and retired on Dec. 1, 2005. He was 50 at the time of his retirement.

“We were very surprised,” said City Manager Mitchell Johnson in a phone message to YES! Weekly. “The judge apparently just made a decision on pleadings. We didn’t even get to argue the case. We believe that there is some significant information that he didn’t have and will be trying to reopen it based on that, but that will just depend on the judge and some other processes. I would certainly disagree with the result, but he’s the judge so that may be the end of it.”

Judge Tilley’s order also notes that Brady completed his application for retirement two days before his departure, and that shortly after his retirement he was interviewed “in conjunction with an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the Greensboro Police Department.”

“We’ve got a pretty clear record of not paying supplemental benefits when someone is in the midst of a disciplinary process,” Johnson said. “It just doesn’t make any sense that someone that is in the midst of a disciplinary process that they would be able to avoid any impacts by retiring and still want all the money of the taxpayers and the state. It’s kind of like a get-out-jail-free card. It’s fine for you to retire, but it’s another thing for you to take the benefits, which should go to employees who leave on good terms.”

Five days after Brady’s retirement court records indicate that the former deputy chief received a letter from Greensboro Human Resources Director Connie Hammond informing him that his benefits would be “held in abeyance until such time as the inquiry into the police department’s policies and practices is complete.”

More than a month after Brady retired, Chief David Wray resigned after being locked out of his office by City Manager Mitchell Johnson.

Brady sued the city in February 2006.

The city argued in an answer filed with the court that “grounds existed for [Brady] to be fired, and [he] was expressly told about the existence of certain grounds that would cause him to be fired…. If a final determination is made that [Brady] should have been fired, as the [city] presently believes and contends, he is disqualified from further service as a police officer, and in keeping with [city] policy, he is disqualified from receiving any city controlled benefits.”

The city also argued that there was “a very important public interest to be served in this case: the punishment of officers who misuse their office for improper purposes.”

Judge Tilley noted that the city was arguing not that Brady had been terminated but that he could have been terminated. The city was unable to point to any resolution in existence prior to Brady’s retirement stating that an officer that could have been terminated was ineligible for retirement benefits.

Tilley determined that it was “not clear that the method chosen by the city was reasonable or necessary to achieve its asserted interest” of punishing official misconduct, and suggested that the city had sufficient information to pass a resolution prohibiting a person under investigation from receiving benefits prior to Brady’s retirement, but failed to do so.

Johnson, the city manager, said if the city is unable to appeal the ruling he plans to propose a resolution to prevent retired employees from receiving benefits while under investigation. “If that is the end of it we’ll certainly be doing an item for council,” he said. ”We put something on council’s agenda to make sure we don’t have that hole again.”

The city council will hold a closed-session meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 13 to receive legal advice on the Brady case.

In April 2006 lawyers for the city requested a stay on the case “in order to permit the conclusion of an ongoing civil and criminal investigation” into departmental practices under the Wray administration. The city argued that if it was required to reveal witnesses and evidence in the discovery process for the Brady case, “the investigation will be at least hampered, and possibly futile, creating the possibility that some misconduct will go unpunished.”

Senior Deputy Attorney General James J. Coman, who took the lead role in the criminal investigation for the State Bureau of Investigation after Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson relinquished control, submitted an affidavit to the court in September 2006 in support of a motion to continue the stay.

“There still remains a number of issues to be addressed in the criminal investigation and some issues must be resolved with two attorneys in the same practice, who represent seven of the officers that the investigators would like to interview,” said Coman, who was the police attorney for the city of Greensboro from 1973 to 1978. “One of those seven officers is the plaintiff in this action and to allow discovery to go forward at this time would be detrimental for the criminal investigation.

“I believe that the (SBI) agents, in light of the mountain of evidence that they have had to review, have moved expeditiously since undertaking this responsibility on June 9, 2006,” he continued. “I am optimistic that if we can overcome the issues related to the representation of the same group of officers by two attorneys in the same law firm… then hopefully this matter can be concluded by the end of the year.”

Despite Coman’s expressed hope that the investigation would be wrapped up by December 2006, that has not been the case.

A confidential report prepared by the city attorney’s office and Risk Management Associates of Raleigh fingered Brady as the supervisor of a “secret police” unit embedded in the police department’s special intelligence section that allegedly targeted almost exclusively black police officers in a long-running corruption probe. “Its secrecy was in part maintained by the fact that over the last three years, Brady has been placed in charge of the unit’s activities even though he has moved within the organization and/or been promoted several times,” the report found. “The unit moved with him and so did his direct contact and his direct report to Chief Wray. This suggests a deliberate effort by the chief to keep Brady in a position to keep him informed of [the] sensitive and secret activity of this unit.”

The report prepared by Risk Management Associates and the city attorney’s office also raises concerns about Brady altering administrative investigative reports as part of an alleged system of favoritism carried out by Wray’s inner circle.

“On several occasions, Chief Wray, Deputy Chief Brady or an assistant chief have ordered the original report to be changed to conform to their recommendations,” the city-commissioned investigation found. “Therefore the original document is forever lost. Moreover, it was revealed that a practice of signing the investigator’s name whenever the investigator disagrees with the command staff’s determination and refuses to sign the changed report – thus making it appear that the investigator agreed with the changes and perhaps had just been unavailable to sign the document when it was finalized.”

Various accounts indicate that Brady and Wray’s suspicions were particularly focused on Lt. James Hinson, an African-American officer who was suspended from the force in June 2005 and then reinstated following Wray’s resignation. The city’s investigative report states that Brady “told several people at a meeting held to discuss how to proceed with a possible homicide investigation that he would ‘sacrifice a homicide to get Hinson.'” Then-District Attorney Stuart Albright is reported to have met with Wray to discuss his concerns about the possibility that the statement could compromise a potential prosecution.

Brady’s lawyer, Seth Cohen, declined to comment on the outcome of his client’s civil suit or any related issues.

The stay on discovery in the Brady case expired last month, but Johnson said on Feb. 9 that he has learned that April is earliest the State Bureau of Investigation might wrap up its investigation.

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