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Polygraph results discarded in embattled officer’s termination hearing

by Jordan Green

Greensboro police Officer Robert Reyes, assigned to Squad G in the Western Patrol Division, had been under investigation for a possible violation of the department’s truthfulness directive in relation to a statement he had made to the effect that a fellow officer stated in June that Capt. Charles Cherry had been fired.

In fact, at the time Cherry had been on administrative duty pending a fitness-for-duty evaluation, in which he eventually received a clean bill of health from two separate psychologists.

After being served with an order to undergo a polygraph examination during his administrative interview on Aug. 5, the 50-year-old Reyes told his sergeant that he had learned “a big lesson” from the experience. He had been suspended and was faced with the possibility of being fired. Reyes told Sgt. CB Isom that as he was dwelling on his 16-year-old daughter’s recent diagnosis with leukemia, he had made a vow to himself.

“I said, you know what, from this day on, you know, they could be hanging from [a] wall butt-naked, you know,” Reyes said. “I didn’t see it…. I’m just going to mind my own business.”

On Aug. 30, two days before Ken Miller was sworn in as the city’s new chief, Assistant Chief Dwight Crotts found Reyes’ alleged truthfulness violation not sustained. Instead, he sustained violations against Reyes for directives on conduct towards public and employees, and discretion — which were not part of the officer’s initial administrative charges — resulting in a division-level reprimand.

Reyes said in his appeal to City Manager Rashad Young that he and another officer, MD Royal, were subjected to lengthy “Gestapostyle” interrogations by the corporal who administered the polygraph. Reyes said after his polygraph he was told he could not get a readout of the results because the printer was not functioning, while alleging that Royal was called a liar, was told he could be fired and was pressured to change his story.

In contrast, Reyes said, the officer whom he had identified as having misspoken about Cherry’s employment status took anti-anxiety medication to relax his nerves two hours before taking the polygraph.

“The administration of the polygraphs was potentially fraudulent,” said the Rev. Nelson Johnson, a pastor who has been supportive of Reyes and other officers facing termination after filing grievances against command-level

officers in the department alleging discrimination and retaliation.

The polygraph results were thrown out as evidence and not used in Reyes’ termination hearing, both Crotts and Assistant City Manager Michael Speedling said. Crotts declined to comment on allegations that the polygraphs were inconsistently administered, citing the state statute protecting personnel information, while Speedling said he had not been aware of the circumstances.

Asked to comment on whether inconsistent application of polygraphs for the apparent purpose of achieving a predetermined result would cause sufficient concern to warrant an investigation, Crotts responded, “I think it would probably be a training issue.”

Crotts and Speedling disputed Reyes’ characterization of the circumstances surrounding his initial grievance. In his appeal to City Manager Rashad Young, Reyes has attributed division-level monitoring of him as taking place “because I reported what I believed to be excessive force by a fellow officer.”

Crotts called that assertion “wholly inaccurate.”

Reyes wrote that Crotts “condoned the monitoring, following and ‘shadowing’ of me by officers of my rank and time in grade,” who reportedly supplied information to Reyes’ sergeant at the time. Reyes contends that the sergeant, in turn, “used the information, detrimentally against me (with the ultimate goal of firing me).”

Crotts said in response: “He’s a brand-new officer. He’s going to make mistakes. If he’s having perception issues we certainly need to know about that. If we get into a situation where his judgment and perception is cause for concern, we have an obligation to address that. It’s not only appropriate, but prudent.”

A letter to the US Department of Justice signed by dozens of pastors, including the assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina and the state president of the NAACP, contends, “All of these officers are in some way involved in ‘whistle blowing’ regarding violations of police department regulations, the city’s ethical code, and — in some cases — criminal behavior.”

Like Cherry and Officer AJ Blake, Officer Joseph Pryor was fired by Crotts in the month between former Chief Tim Bellamy’s retirement and Ken Miller’s swearing-in. Pryor, along with Cherry, has engaged in a terse, semi-public disagreement with Speedling about the handling of Pryor’s grievance alleging that his signature was forged on a Notification of Investigation.

Pryor said in his appeal to the city manager that “this same investigation was reviewed by Mr. Speedling, who stated that the results was due to ‘discrimination or incompetence’ by professional standards.”

Pryor told Young in a July 26 memo that he “was informed that the entire professional standards division would be investigated regarding the possible forged, scanned or otherwise improper placement of my signature on the document. An investigation of the entire unit would only make sense because any individual concurring with the findings in the document or having access to the document could have altered it.”

Speedling, who was appointed by Young as assistant city manager for public safety and human resources in February, denied in a recent interview ever using the word “discrimination” in conversation with Pryor.

“I spoke about one part of an investigation that appeared to be investigatively insufficient,” he said, later adding: “Investigative insufficiency is incompetence.” Speedling reiterated a previous statement to the effect that a flaw in one investigation does not indict the entire professional standards division.

“At the point in time when we started running the investigation, we didn’t think we had any information that would run down a criminal trail,” Speedling said, “so we initiated it as an administrative investigation, and that’s ultimately how it panned out.”

Crotts said the department determined there was no financial gain involved in the alleged forgery, so the case was not referred to the criminal investigation division. NCGS 14-20, the statute governing criminal violations stemming from the forgery of signatures on documents, qualifies that the offense may be perpetrated “for the sake of gain or with intent to defraud or injure any other person.” Pryor’s appeal document does not make clear whether or how he believes he was harmed by the alleged forgery of his signature.

Pryor told Young in his July 26 memo that once he came forward with allegations about an investigation conducted on him, the findings were favorably changed from not sustained to unfounded, but his allegations were not fully investigated and then the investigation was turned on him, alleging that he had been untruthful.

Crotts and Speedling declined to comment on the matter because it is under appeal.

rid them from the department and silence them because of grievances exposing discriminatory investigative processes. They note that the grievances implicate numerous city employees.

On one administrative charge against Cherry, Crotts ruled that the violation was not sustained. Cherry has been investigated for truthfulness regarding a statement in his grievances indicating that Chief Tim Bellamy was involved in the discrimination complaint against the city before he was appointed acting chief following the abrupt resignation of Chief David Wray. Some plaintiffs have felt betrayed by Bellamy’s lack of support for the suit once he got the department’s top job.

Documents submitted with Cherry’s appeal lend support to the captain’s assertion.

In a notarized letter, retired Sgt. Stephen L. Hunter writes, “During the period surrounding the resignation of former Chief of Police David Wray I was one of a few officers tasked with collecting EEOC complaint forms from black police officers who felt they had been victimized by discriminatory or racist practices by David Wray or those within his administration. Among the complaint forms I collected was one from then Major TR Bellamy. When Major Bellamy was appointed acting Chief of Police I placed a telephone call to him and informed him that I had removed his EEOC form from those I planned to turn over to the attorneys representing myself and other black police officers. I also informed Major Bellamy that I would get rid of the form if he so desired. Bellamy agreed it would be a good idea for the EEOC form to be destroyed, and I complied with his wishes.”

Ken Free, one of the lawyers representing the black officers, corroborates Hunter’s statement, describing a conversation in which Cherry “asked if Assistant Chief Bellamy was on the suit. I told him that I saw an EEOC complaint with Tim Bellamy’s signature on it that was collected by Sergeant Steve Hunter. Sgt. Hunter did not turn it over because Chief Bellamy asked Sgt. Hunter to pull it out because he (Bellamy) believed he would be appointed interim chief.”

Pryor said he had already spoken to Young about the allegation that he violated the truthfulness directive, on which he was eventually terminated, and that the city manager told him: “You kept pushing it.”

Young could not be reached for comment for this story.

Cherry was fired on Aug. 30 for sustained violations of the department’s directives on general conduct, malicious criticism and gossip, and discretion. The issues at play were a statement he took out of a confidential meeting by a fellow captain who was alleged to have said he didn’t trust officers who are plaintiffs in a federal discrimination lawsuit and Cherry’s act of sending out an e-mail to officers under his command in June to inform them of his administrative status at the time he was facing a fitness-for-duty evaluation.

Cherry acknowledged in his appeal that he violated the confidentiality agreement, but contends, “The moment the comment became part of a discrimination allegation, that fact outweighed the confidentiality agreement.”

In reference to the other matter, Cherry quotes the Notification of Investigation he received about the e-mail as saying, “Due to Cherry’s information being provided to the media, the Greensboro Police Department’s credibility and ability to perform basic functions to the community are called into question.

This is evidenced by comments from people in the community. Because the matter is a personnel issue, and therefore subject to NCGS 160A-168 Privacy of Employee Personnel Records, the department and city are unable to respond to the questions Captain Cherry has raised resulting in heightened community concern.”

Contrary to assertions from department representatives, the e-mail expresses no disagreement with Crotts’ recommendation that Cherry undergo a fitness-for duty evaluation, and overall the missive provides positive characterizations of fellow officers and the department’s mission.

Cherry responds, in part: “The fact that it was given to the media is not a problem, because it is accurate.”

Cherry, Pryor and Reyes’ appeals all contend that the discipline imposed on them is retaliation related to the federal discrimination lawsuit, of which Cherry and Pryor are plaintiffs and an attempt to rid them from the department and silence them because of grievances exposing discriminatory investigative processes. They note that the grievances implicate numerous city employees.

On one administrative charge against Cherry, Crotts ruled that the violation was not sustained. Cherry has been investigated for truthfulness regarding a statement in his grievances indicating that Chief Tim Bellamy was involved in the discrimination complaint against the city before he was appointed acting chief following the abrupt resignation of Chief David Wray. Some plaintiffs have felt betrayed by Bellamy’s lack of support for the suit once he got the department’s top job.

Documents submitted with Cherry’s appeal lend support to the captain’s assertion.

In a notarized letter, retired Sgt. Stephen L. Hunter writes, “During the period surrounding the resignation of former Chief of Police David Wray I was one of a few officers tasked with collecting EEOC complaint forms from black police officers who felt they had been victimized by discriminatory or racist practices by David Wray or those within his administration. Among the complaint forms I collected was one from then Major TR Bellamy. When Major Bellamy was appointed acting Chief of Police I placed a telephone call to him and informed him that I had removed his EEOC form from those I planned to turn over to the attorneys representing myself and other black police officers. I also informed Major Bellamy that I would get rid of the form if he so desired. Bellamy agreed it would be a good idea for the EEOC form to be destroyed, and I complied with his wishes.”

Ken Free, one of the lawyers representing the black officers, corroborates Hunter’s statement, describing a conversation in which Cherry “asked if Assistant Chief Bellamy was on the suit. I told him that I saw an EEOC complaint with Tim Bellamy’s signature on it that was collected by Sergeant Steve Hunter. Sgt. Hunter did not turn it over because Chief Bellamy asked Sgt. Hunter to pull it out because he (Bellamy) believed he would be appointed interim chief.”

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