Official circumspection leaves unanswered questions in GPD

by Jordan Green

Two weeks after the resignation of Chief David Wray from the Greensboro Police Department, confusion and distrust continue to swirl around the department and municipal government over clashing ‘— and incomplete ‘— accounts by the city manager and the deposed chief concerning issues of administrative accountability, possible racial profiling and Wray’s dogged investigation of a black police lieutenant linked to a convicted cocaine kingpin through a 1999 real estate transaction.

Wray’s abrupt departure from the force on Jan. 9 and the reinstatement of Lt. James Hinson two days later, after about six months on administrative leave and more than two years of federal and local investigations, leaves two major questions unanswered: Is there a rogue band of white police officers harassing African Americans on the force? Is there a corrupt element of the police department doing business with figures in the local drug trade? Or both?

City Manager Mitchell Johnson, Mayor Keith Holliday and members of the City Council have declined to shed additional light on the matter because of laws protecting the confidentiality of city employees. A deputy city attorney also rejected a public records request from YES! Weekly for two reports commissioned by the city on grounds that it would compromise ‘“an ongoing or future criminal investigation.’” Wray has made two public statements but has declined to take questions or make himself otherwise available to the news media.

Councilwoman Sandy Carmany, who said she has been briefed on the first and second reports submitted to Johnson by Raleigh-based Risk Management Associates, commented in an internet response to a post by a local blogger: ‘“You’re basing your conclusions on ‘the tip of the iceberg’ that you have seen.’”

Carmany’s husband is a retired Greensboro police officer and the councilwoman often describes herself as a member of the ‘police family.’

Officials have described the first report as dealing with Chief Wray’s relationship with the city manager’s office, and the second report as dealing with administrative behavior within the police department.

‘“There is documented evidence and testimony provided by white officers and other law enforcement agencies ‘—’ state and federal ‘— of many more incidents involving other GPD officers ‘— black and white ‘— that point to systematic discrimination and intimidation,’” Carmany wrote. ‘“In my opinion, this is clearly not a case of the complaining officers trying to use the ‘race card.””

Carmany and Holliday have said they wish they could share more information with the public, and Holliday said in a Jan. 17 interview that City Council might decide in the coming weeks to authorize the city manager to release more details.

Carmany has described herself as ‘“thoroughly sickened’” by findings in the second report.

The vacuum of information has nourished several theories with little apparent basis in fact that have popped up in local blogs. Among them:

‘• Wray suspected police officers were helping an illegal strip club in the Glenwood neighborhood evade law enforcement and went beyond normal police procedures to bring the department under control;

‘• Wray got in trouble for using Homeland Security money to pay for repairs to homes in Glenwood after ordering officers to break down doors during a 2004 manhunt; and

‘• The Simkins political action committee, an expression of black electoral power in Guilford County, engineered a changing of the guard to help black police officers evade accountability.

In the absence of first-hand testimonial, the clearest picture emerges from a comparison between the written statements of Johnson, the city manager, and Wray, the former chief; from federal prosecution documents; and from Guilford County property transfer documents and state corporations records.

Wray said in a Jan. 18 statement that Hinson’s name had come up in an October 2002 federal criminal investigation. Wray would continue to monitor and investigate Hinson through at least October 2005, deploying both special intelligence and internal affairs officers.

October 2002 was an eventful month for law enforcement in Greensboro. Federal agents, with the help of Greensboro police, arrested Elton Turnbull, a Greensboro drug dealer responsible for importing 500 kilos of cocaine, at minimum, into central North Carolina annually, according to court documents. Turnbull was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and launder money, along with 10 other local associates in his organization.

The prosecution’s document of factual basis identifies Turnbull as a partner in ‘“a large-scale, international drug trafficking organization that was based in Colombia’” and led by James S. Springette.

Springette obtained cocaine in Colombia and Venezuela, and transported it by plane to an offshore drop point near the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Bales of cocaine were retrieved from the water by other members of the organization and smuggled into the United States through Miami by various methods, including couriers, mail and boat to various locations, including Turnbull’s sales territory: central North Carolina.

A federal investigation established that in addition to selling cocaine Turnbull directed the laundering of proceeds from the drug sales in the Greensboro area, recruiting couriers to transport cash to Miami, and sometimes the Virgin Islands, Venezuela and Colombia. On one occasion in 2001 Turnbull hired a pilot to fly him to Venezuela, where he personally delivered $1 million to Springette.

Turnbull also used drug revenues to enhance his personal assets, buying an apartment building in High Point, various cars and boats, at least two airplanes and racehorses that were boarded at Calder Race Track in Miami, according to the court documents.

Even as the Greensboro arm of the operation was dismantled, federal agents were also closing in on Springette, who had been under investigation by the FBI, Customs and the Drug Enforcement Administration since 1992. On Nov. 5, Springette was captured by Venezuelan authorities and extradited to the United States, where he appeared before a US magistrate judge in Augusta, Ga. the following day.

Turnbull is currently incarcerated at Jesup Federal Correctional Institute, a medium-security prison in southeast Georgia and is scheduled for release in January 2028. Springette is housed at US Penitentiary 1, a high-security prison in central Florida, and is scheduled for release in April 2032.

The only apparent link between Lt. James Hinson and Elton Turnbull is a real estate transaction. In June 1999, Hinson and his wife, Beverly, sold Turnbull a one-story house at 3106 Fieldale Road in south Greensboro. Hinson has said he didn’t know about Turnbull’s drug activities at the time.

During his run as a drug dealer, Turnbull registered several corporations in North Carolina, some of which appear to be fronts. Tbull was formed in May 1998, and in August 2002 Turnbull registered three other businesses: TD Management, TD Landscaping & Home Maintenance and TD Stables.

The prosecution’s document of factual basis does not mention the Fieldale Road house. Greensboro police aren’t mentioned in the document until two days before the arrest of Turnbull and his associates when detectives conducted surveillance for federal agents. The arrests took place three years after Turnbull bought the Fieldale Road house from the Hinsons.

Numerous probes cleared Hinson of wrongdoing, by Wray’s own admission, but the former police chief continued to keep him under investigation, and even ignored the conclusions of two internal review reports.

‘“In the fall of 2004, an internal affairs investigator with the Greensboro Police Department wrote a one-page memorandum concluding there was no evidence to substantiate any violations of departmental directives, policies or procedures, and that it was unnecessary to question Lieutenant Hinson concerning the matters investigated,’” Wray said. ‘“I had reservations concerning the thoroughness of the investigation and whether the investigator’s conclusions were correct, especially in light of the totality of the circumstances and information I received in early 2005 after the memo was prepared.’”

Wray said that in early 2005 Hinson’s name came up again in the course of a second federal investigation. A special intelligence officer, Randy Gerringer, was assigned to keep Hinson under surveillance and then-Deputy Chief Randall Brady, who resigned after being interviewed by Risk Management Associates, approved the installation of an electronic tracking device on Hinson’s police vehicle, Wray said.

Special intelligence was still keeping Hinson under surveillance two years after the lieutenant had been cleared in a federal criminal investigation, said Johnson. The city manager also accused Wray of misleading him and the public at a June 17, 2005, press conference held at the time Hinson was placed on administrative leave.

‘“Chief Wray misled his superiors by providing information asserting that the lead agencies had just approved his ability to ‘move on’ information provided by said investigation’… and never publicly corrected that incorrect assertion,’” Johnson said. ‘“During the investigation of Lieutenant James Hinson, the Guilford County district attorney requested that any future criminal investigation of Hinson be referred to the State Bureau of Investigation. This request was not communicated to the city manager.’”

With Hinson on administrative leave, Wray said he hired back two former internal affairs officers to conduct a new investigation of the lieutenant. When he received their report clearing Hinson in November Wray didn’t like their conclusions. After discussing the report with the assistant chiefs, who were divided on its merits, Wray said he changed seven out of nine recommendations: two ‘unfounded’ recommendations became ‘sustained’; four ‘not sustained’ recommendations became ‘sustained’; and one ‘exonerated’ recommendation was changed to ‘sustained.’

By then Wray was at the center of an investigation himself, with the Raleigh company commissioned to investigate complaints of unfair treatment interviewing the department’s top brass. Wray said Johnson refused to discuss the Hinson matter with him at their monthly meeting on Nov. 14.

‘“I scheduled a follow-up meeting with [City Attorney Linda] Miles on or about November 15, 2005 to discuss my recommendations further,’” Wray said. ‘“Ms. Miles agreed with me that she could not follow the logic of the investigator’s recommendations either. I made specific recommendations for discipline of Lieutenant Hinson which I then believed, and still believe to be well founded.’”

Wray also said he has been advised that a federal criminal investigation in which Hinson’s name came up is still open ‘“and continuing in some aspects.’”

Hinson, who returned a phone call on Jan. 18, declined to discuss any incidents of harassment against him or other black officers, or any other matter.

‘“I’m glad to be back on the force,’” he said. ‘“That’s my only comment.’”

Carmany and other city officials have expressed confidence in Hinson’s reputation.

‘“I can say that Hinson was cleared in the allegations that he knew Turnbull,’” Carmany said.

Johnson also dispelled the notion that Hinson-Turnbull real estate deal has left any lingering concerns.

‘“I don’t know that I could say categorically that there have been or are no police officers involved in drug dealing or money laundering,’” the city manager said, ‘“but the individuals that were being investigated had been thoroughly investigated and there was no justification or ability to say that there was in fact a connection.’”

Johnson has said he is aware of only administrative breaches in Wray’s administration, but the FBI has announced an investigation into possible civil rights violations that could potentially lead to criminal indictments.

‘“We’re doing a preliminary inquiry regarding allegations of civil rights violations at the Greensboro Police Department,’” said Ken Lucas, the FBI spokesman in Charlotte. ‘“We in Charlotte were asked by our Greensboro FBI office to come in for a non-biased, third-party inquiry. Never a bad idea.’”

Lucas said the FBI is not doing a systematic review of the department that would include probes into possible corruption or inappropriate relationships with figures in the drug industry.

‘“Not that I’m aware of,’” Lucas said, when asked if the FBI has ever investigated Hinson. ‘“I don’t have anything on that.’”

Amy Kingsley and Meredith Veto contributed reporting to this story.

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