Pastors allege findings were altered in Sanders investigation

by Jordan Green

Pastors allege findings were altered in Sanders investigation

On top of a roiling controversy over financing for an aquatic center and tensions over the possibility of reopening the White Street Landfill, members of the new Greensboro City Council received a request from three African-American pastors backing black police officers to disclose more information about the police controversy.

In a letter presented to council members on the night they were sworn into office, the Revs. Cardes Brown, Gregory Headen and Nelson Johnson referenced a suggestion by Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw to release an internal affairs investigative report on police Officer Scott Sanders, who carried out extensive investigations of black officers under former Chief David Wray.

“We request that if it is decided to release any portion of that or any other investigation that all of the investigation be released, to include all changes and amendments,” the letter reads. “This would be the only way to ensure total transparency. Releasing selected portions of the investigation would do nothing to restore public confidence.”

The Rev. Brown, who is the president of the Greensboro branch of the NAACP, later said the pastors also want the council to release a State Bureau of Investigation report from the state agency’s investigation of Sanders.

“We’re aware of the fact that the SBI report indicated that there were some administrative issues that needed to be dealt with,” Brown said. “In the recommendations of the SBI, though they did not indicate these were criminal charges, they did give reason why there should be administrative actions taken. That was overlooked. They supposedly had an internal investigation. The findings were really significantly altered. If they are going to release any of the favorable records of ‘not guilty,’ since there is a higher standard for police they need to release the information that is not consistent as far as the administrative actions.”

Sanders received word from Chief Tim Bellamy last month that he was being reinstated to regular duty status after being assigned to a desk job during an extensive internal investigation that followed his acquittal in February of tampering with another officer’s computer and obstruction of justice.

“There was an administrative investigation and the chief signed off on it, and to suggest there is something untoward going on is silly,” said Seth Cohen, Sanders’ lawyer. “All I know is that Chief Bellamy personally reviewed each and every file for each and every investigation and concluded that the charges were unfounded. And so if Rev. Brown and others are suggesting that Chief Tim Bellamy is a racist who was covering up for Scott Sanders and other white officers they need to come out and say it.”

Bellamy is black. Wray, his predecessor, is white.

Bellamy expressed caution about presuming that the conclusion of the investigation and the reinstatement of Sanders indicated that the officer had been cleared of wrongdoing.

“Exonerated? I wouldn’t say completely exonerated,” Bellamy said.

“There were some things that were found that would not state that.”

While declining to comment specifically on Sanders’ case, Bellamy said, “We do have investigations where it can be sustained that there were violations, but it doesn’t rise to the level of termination.”

The pastors plan to send a certified letter to Chief Bellamy with specific questions and seek a meeting to receive answers.

Cohen said Officer Sanders would welcome the release of the internal affairs file on his administrative investigation, and would not hold any reservations about any part of the file being made public.

North Carolina personnel law allows for a city manager, with the concurrence of council to make public the reinstatement and the reasons for that action of an employee on the basis that the release is essential to maintaining public confidence.

Bellamy, who plans to retire next year, said he doesn’t think his opinion carries much weight, but he would recommend that the file not be released.

“There are still pending lawsuits,” he said. “I would suggest not releasing them until everything has been through the civil process.”

The new council has been preoccupied with the aquatic center and, to a lesser extent, questions about the costs of disposing of solid waste. Members said they haven’t had time to give the police controversy much thought. Only four out of nine members returned calls for this story.

“As far as the Sanders investigation goes, if he’s alright with letting the information out, I don’t see what the problem is,” Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan said.

District 2 Councilman Jim Kee indicated he would be open to the idea of releasing the file. District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny said he would want to check with the city legal department before making any decision, but generally favors allowing all discrimination lawsuits against the city to go to trial and then fully releasing all information to the public.

At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins said he doesn’t believe the release would meet the legal standard of being essential to maintaining public confidence, and could “lead down a slippery slope.”

Lawyer Seth Cohen displays a report from an internal affairsinvestigation of Greensboro police Officer Scott Sanders during a pressconference last month. (photo by Quentin L. Richardson)