Police captain sues to block disciplinary action

by Jordan Green

A Greensboro police captain who was reprimanded by a state law enforcement training commission for poor record keeping and improperly allowing recruits to obtain state certification has filed suit against the city, claiming that a hearing scheduled for him to appeal a department disciplinary decision lacks impartiality and fairness.

The civil complaint filed on behalf of Capt. Chris Walker on Dec. 13 requests that the Guilford County courts issue a temporary restraining order to halt the hearing, which is slated for next month. Administrative charges filed on Oct. 31 by fellow captain Gary Hastings recommend that Walker, a 19-year veteran of the department, be demoted two ranks to sergeant. Walker’s lawsuit contends that interim Chief Tim Bellamy should recuse himself from the hearing board because of his prior involvement in the matter. The lawsuit also claims that the appointment of three lieutenants to the board violates a departmental directive prohibiting subordinates from judging the accused.

“Promotions to sergeant and lieutenant are merit based,” said lawyer Seth Cohen, who is representing Walker in the suit. “You’re chosen by chief to be a captain or assistant chief, so there’s more politics involved. It at least creates an appearance of impropriety, because if the accused gets demoted then those three lieutenants all of a sudden have a shot at his position.”

Assistant City Attorney Blair Carr, representing the city of Greensboro, declined to comment on the complaint.

As commander of the division of organizational development, Walker was responsible for overseeing the department’s promotional exam for sergeant and lieutenant, which was given in April. The lawsuit notes that after the exam was administered, some of the officers who took the test complained about the low rate of passage.

Walker is accused of violating a special operating procedure that calls for the organizational development commander to empanel a “subject matter expert” board made up of command-level personnel to review the exam to ensure its relevance to department goals and practices. Walker’s lawsuit acknowledges that the captain and his supervisor, Assistant Chief Craig Hartley, decided to go ahead and administer the exam without creating a review board.

“Accordingly, based on the SOP Manual itself, Capt. Walker and Assistant Chief Hartley did what they were specifically allowed to do,” the lawsuit states. “They decided to change and modify the SOPs for this exam and not empanel the SME Board.”

Cohen said the police manual allowed Walker and Hartley to bypass the procedure calling for a subject matter expert board because commanders are allowed to create standard operating procedures for their own divisions. He pointed to the cover sheet of a revised version of the police manual dated Aug. 1, 2004 that bears the names of both Walker and then-Assistant Chief Randall Brady, who was part of Wray’s inner circle and who has since retired. The manual states that “changes, modifications, additions or deletions to this manual may be made only with the endorsement of the affected bureau and division commanding officers.”

Lt. Jane Allen, the spokeswoman for the police department and reportedly a peer member of the appeals board appointed by Chief Bellamy, did not respond to requests for comment about Walker’s alleged violations or the due process concerns articulated in the lawsuit.

An Oct. 31 memo by Capt. Hastings that accompanied the charges filed against Walker contends that the commander’s failure to follow departmental policy resulted in a complaint being filed by the Greensboro Police Officers Association protesting the validity of the exams, and in Chief Bellamy invalidating the exams and suspending all promotions to the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant.

Hastings’ memo also notes that part of the standard operating procedures governing organizational development was developed by Walker and adopted in March 2005, during the Wray administration.

Walker was transferred from organizational development to the eastern division on May 1, according to a department newsletter. While the bottleneck created by the promotional exam for sergeant and lieutenant may have caused consternation for officers angling for advancement in the spring of 2006, the state’s Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission saw another problem: an academy run by Walker that allowed some recruits to gain state certification without fulfilling all the requirements of their training.

Minutes for a May 18 meeting of the commission’s probable cause committee at the Ramada Inn in Kill Devil Hills note that the committee found probable cause to “suspend Christopher Neal Walker’s law enforcement officer certification for a period of not less than five years for having knowingly and willfully, by means of false pretense, deception, defraudation, misrepresentation or cheating whatsoever, aided another person in obtaining or attempting to obtain credit, training or certification from the commission.”

The committee, which had also considered suspending the department’s recruit training program, ultimately backed off, recommending official written reprimands for both Walker and the academy. Assistant City Attorney Carr, who attended the hearing, said that in addition to the academy’s failure to provide proper training before state exams were administered, the committee handed down reprimands because of improper record keeping. State investigator Richard Squires told the committee that during a March 21 audit the most recent evaluations of police academy instructors found in the division’s files dated back to 2002.

A private investigative report – commissioned by City Manager Mitchell Johnson in the fall of 2005 that precipitated the departure of Chief Wray – paints Walker as a favored member of the former chief’s faction who may have tried to help Wray consolidate control over the department and also may have benefited from favoritism.

The report compiled by Raleigh-based Risk Management Associates, commonly known as the RMA report, alleges that a PEER Support Team set up to provide emotional and professional support for officers was placed under Walker’s supervision when Wray became chief. Efforts by Walker to attend support team meetings were seen as “chilling” by some officers, the investigators reported.

“At least one member reports that she believes the chief instructed Walker to attend these meetings to report their discussions to him – a way of monitoring officers for ‘dirt,'” the report notes.

Cohen declined to comment on the allegation, and said his client was not available to discuss the matter.

The RMA report also states that in late November 2005 Walker’s service firearm was reported stolen from his residence. Hartley interviewed Walker about the incident, but made no disciplinary recommendations, the report said. Likewise Hartley reportedly declined to recommend that Walker be required to cover the cost of the weapon – a penalty imposed on two African-American officers who found themselves similarly situated only months earlier.

Because Walker lived outside of Greensboro the investigation into the missing firearm was handled by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. Lt. Robert Elliott, who was reached by phone at the District II office in Stoney Creek on Dec. 14, said he could not access the case in a computerized system because it was “partitioned,” meaning that it was considered somewhat sensitive and was only available to select county law enforcement personnel.

Cohen said the Walker lawsuit has been added to the Guilford County Court calendar for the week beginning Jan. 2, two weeks ahead of the administrative appeal hearing scheduled on Jan. 18. Walker’s effort to halt the disciplinary action against him comes at a time when city officials anticipate the NC State Bureau of Investigation will conclude criminal investigations and come to a decision on whether to hand down indictments to Wray and other former police personnel in the next few months.

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