Police captain who helped officers with grievances is fired
Pastors sign letter requesting federal intervention in ‘developing and dangerous crisis’
A police captain who has helped several junior officers draft grievances alleging discrimination and retaliation and who is at the center of assertions by the NAACP and other groups that the Greensboro Police Department is embroiled in a culture of corruption has been fired.
Dozens of pastors and clergy signed a letter to the US Department of Justice on Sunday requesting an “immediate intervention in a developing and dangerous crisis within the Greensboro Police Department,” noting that “false, retaliatory allegations are resulting in officers being unjustly and illegally terminated,” and specifically referencing Capt. Charles Cherry as “an outstanding command-level officer.”
A 23-year veteran of the department, Cherry commanded the Eastern Patrol Division up to the time he was placed on administrative leave in early June. He received successive Level IV performance evaluations, 5 being the highest possible level, before his commander took note of his role in the grievances and reduced him to a Level I.
The letter — signed by the Rt. Rev. Chip Marble, assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, and NC NAACP President William J. Barber II, among others — closes, “If a ‘dormant’ Justice Department investigation related to the GPD already exists, we respectfully and urgently request that it be immediately reactivated. In the last eight months, not only has the situation grown more dangerous, but a wealth of new information has become available.”
The Rev. Joseph Frierson, a community organizer with the Beloved Community Center, said Cherry was fired by interim Chief Dwight Crotts on the basis of a sustained violation of indiscretion related to a June 17 e-mail that he sent to officers under his command explaining why he was on administrative leave for a recommendation for a fit-for duty psychological evaluation in which he eventually received a clean bill of health. A knowledgeable source who spoke on condition of anonymity said Cherry was also found to be in violation of general conduct and malicious gossip directives, and that the sustained violations were additionally related to information shared about a fellow commander’s remarks in a confidential meeting.
Cherry is the third officer who has been fired in the past two weeks, preceded by officers Joseph Pryor and AJ Blake. All three are plaintiffs in a pending federal discrimination lawsuit, and Cherry assisted Pryor and Blake with grievances. The three are appealing their termination decisions to City Manager Rashad Young.
Frierson said a fourth officer, Robert Reyes, learned on Monday that he had received a division-level reprimand, and will be reinstated after being recommended for termination. Reyes, who joined the department in 2008, received assistance on a grievance from Cherry and had been under investigation for an alleged violation of the department’s malicious gossip directive related to whether an officer in the Western Patrol Division made a remark indicating that Cherry had been fired during the period when the captain was on administrative leave. “We see this as a possible setup,” Frierson said. “This discipline will stay in his jacket for a year, and hopefully they’re not planning to bring further action against him. But let me make it clear: We’re celebrating this as a victory today.”
Crotts could not be reached for comment for this story, and it remains unclear on what basis the interim chief sustained a finding that Cherry’s e-mail constituted violations of general conduct, malicious gossip or indiscretion.
Young has already expressed disapproval towards Cherry’s action in sending the e-mail.
“Your decision to both e-mail members of the department and read
page 6, Police cont’d
from the memo at lineup was clearly to cause disruption, stimulate rancor and discontent, and advance your theory of motivation and intent,” Young wrote in a July 29 memo to Cherry. Frierson assailed the city manager’s reasoning.
“It’s disruptive to city business because it raises questions not only in other officers’ minds, but in city employees’ minds about why an officer who is considered exemplary would be recommended for fit-for-duty evaluation,” Frierson said. “I think Rashad should be very careful in his implications about being disruptive to city business. Isn’t it an officer’s duty to question wrongdoing and the violation of people’s rights? That’s why we give them a gun and a badge: to investigate.”
Cherry said during a pre-recorded video address played for hundreds of people at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Sunday in what was billed as a “Service of Support of Concerned Pastors” that four officers approached him in March with unrelated concerns, and he determined they warranted filing grievances with the aim of resolving them internally.
“I did assist the officers, as I believe that’s my obligation, my duty and responsibility as a commander to help any subordinate officer or any citizen,” Cherry said. “Once I began to assist the officers — what occurs when you file a grievance is it goes up the chain of command, and different people answer the grievances on paper — it began to implicate many individuals, and it began to mushroom.”
The fourth officer, Frances Banks, is the only officer among the five original grievants who has not been suspended and recommended for termination. Like Cherry, Pryor and Blake, she is a plaintiff in the federal discrimination lawsuit. Officer MD Royal has been suspended and recommended for termination based on his corroboration of Reyes’ assertion that another officer misspoke about Cherry’s employment status. Royal is neither a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit nor one of the initial grievants. Reyes said in the video address: “My journey in this roller-coaster ride began when I witnessed a citizen who was mistreated by a fellow officer. By me coming forward with that information began my roller-coaster ride of retaliation and discrimination.”
The audience broke out in applause during a segment of the video when Reyes said, “Before that badge, I am first a citizen. I did not become a police officer to support the police department. My duty is — and I swore an oath — to protect society, to uphold the laws of the state and the local laws of the city.”
Pryor was fired on Aug. 26. His recommendation for termination alleges a violation of the department’s truthfulness directive.
“This whole situation actually evolved because of a complaint that a subject said that he was assaulted by a police officer — a black police officer — and I was the only black police officer on the scene at that time,” Pryor said during his portion of the video address. “An investigation occurred, which led to me being investigated by internal affairs. During that investigation, the finding [was] not sustained, which means they couldn’t prove or disprove that I assaulted the guy. But during the course of the investigation, there were two other officers who were Caucasian, and they admitted to actually striking the guy, and admitted that I didn’t.”
Later, on appeal, the finding was changed from not sustained to unfounded, Pryor said.
A memo from Pryor to Young indicates the officer filed a grievance alleging that his signature was forged, copied or improperly placed on a notification of administrative investigation — an action Pryor describes as amounting to “obvious criminal violations.”
The Rev. Nelson Johnson, one of the pastors supporting the officers, said the disappearance of a portion of a recorded investigative interview establishing that Pryor could not have struck the subject, and that the two white officers did so also potentially rises to the level of criminal violation within the department.
Cherry wrote in a memo to Young that Assistant City Manager Michael Speedling told Pryor during a meeting in May about his grievance that the results of the investigation were due to “incompetence or discrimination.” Cherry has argued, as a result, that all the investigations conducted by professional standards at the time should be reinvestigated to ensure fairness and competency.
Speedling told YES! Weekly in late July:
“I do not make the leap of faith that Cherry does, that if one investigation is investigatively insufficient that the entire professional standards division is incapable.”
Prior to his recent and second termination — his first was overturned by thenacting City Manager Bob Morgan last year — Blake has alleged that he was forced into a police car while off duty on the orders of Assistant Chief Anita Holder and threatened with being fired based on the fact that he waved at Jorge Cornell, who has been validated by the department as a gang member. At the time, Blake was approaching a demonstration held by the pastors to protest alleged police corruption.
Young said in August: “There is no evidence I have seen of a pervasive culture of corruption in the department or that there exists some conspiracy of actions and activities to subject black and Latino officers to disparate or unequal treatment.”
A second transgression leading to Cherry’s dismissal is information shared in violation of a confidentiality agreement by the captain about remarks made by a fellow commander.
Cherry wrote in a March 30 grievance alleging unfair, discriminatory and retaliatory performance behaviors that “in a past meeting of commanders only, one commander stated that he did not trust individuals involved in the indiscreetly publicized lawsuit. Assistant Chief Crotts stated he agreed with the commander and felt the same.”
The commander in question is Capt. John Wolfe, who denied making the statement to YES! Weekly. Crotts has said he couldn’t recall the conversation.
Sgt. Alan McHenry reminded Cherry in a June 24 notification that he had signed a confidentiality agreement, and noted that the information appeared in both Cherry’s and Reyes’ grievances, along with a letter from the pastors to city council.
On Aug. 11, Capt. Jane Allen, commander of professional standards, informed Cherry that “it has been determined that Captain Wolfe’s actions, as described, do not constitute a violation of departmental directives or policy.”
Cherry acknowledge in a memo to Young that he did take Wolfe’s comment “from
the room after signing a confidentiality agreement,” but argued that departmental directives provide an exception when revelation is necessary in the performance of an officer’s duty. “Mr. Young,” Cherry pleaded, “surely, reporting discrimination, retaliation, harassment and unfair treatment of another officer is within the official capacity of my duty.”
On Sunday, the Rev. Barber from the state NAACP brought the audience to its feet with a call for a bus delegation to the US Justice Department to demand federal intervention.
“The Greensboro Police Department gets federal money,” he said. “And when you get federal money, you cannot use federal money in any system or operation that is inherently discriminatory.”