Pulpit Forum and city officials clash over police investigation

by Jordan Green

Since the resignation of Chief David Wray, Greensboro officials have acknowledged that black police officers were disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts. For his part, Wray alluded to evidence of complicity by some police officers in drug distribution as if to justify his aggressive use of the department’s special intelligence unit to ferret out crooked cops. The Greensboro group of African-American pastors known as the Pulpit Forum is now alleging that a combination of both has been taking place within the Greensboro Police Department, but with a twist. White police officers have been involved in the distribution of illegal drugs such as steroids and cocaine, while black police officers have been unduly targeted for investigation for lesser offenses, they say.In a hastily called press conference at New Light Baptist Church on March 1, the first day of the Christian season of penitence, the pastors renewed a call for full disclosure of the abuses that have riven the police department in recent months. In doing so, they issued a confrontational challenge to the city and dropped some explosive allegations.Reading from a prepared statement Pulpit Forum President Mazie Ferguson, who is pastor at Liberation Baptist Church, suggested that the city is attempting a cover-up.’“Pastor members of the Pulpit Forum,’” she said, ‘“have been told by sources we believe to be reliable that the investigation by Risk Management Associates has been completed and contains the names of a great number of officers who, if the report were revealed, would be indicted.’”Worse yet, Ferguson said, some of the culpable officers are involved in an internal administrative investigation undertaken by Interim Chief Tim Bellamy.’“We believe that fear of reprisals and loss of life itself is rampant among active-duty police officers and that many officers do not feel safe to reveal what they know to investigators because the persons questioning them are directly involved in criminal actions,’” she said.Ferguson and Rev. Cardes Brown, pastor of New Light Baptist Church declined to reveal the identities of their sources but said the information came from ‘“honorable officers.’” They also declined to name the officers they believe to be criminally culpable, but said scores of them are currently wearing the badge. Asked by reporters if they’d seen any of the confidential reports prepared for the city by Risk Management Associates, the pastors declined to say.Reached by phone the following day City Manager Mitchell Johnson said he was unaware that any police officers cited in any of the confidential investigative reports had been implicated in criminal activity, but would not rule out the possibility entirely. He said the department’s internal investigation is being carried out by the internal affairs section, which handles confidential personnel issues that fall short of criminal wrongdoing, and in some cases by the criminal investigations division. ‘“If there’s criminal issues that come up, those people whoever might be involved, that will be a public matter,’” Johnson said. ‘“They’ll be prosecuted by the district attorney. The trial will be open to the public. I’m not saying that’s going to happen. I don’t know whether it will or won’t.’”He added, ‘“I would say that the vast majority is administrative issues. Whether any of the issues rise to criminal is something the police department will have to look into.’”The members of the Pulpit Forum alleged a trifecta of police lawlessness, including involvement in drug distribution by white officers, discriminatory treatment of black officers, and vague references to prostitution.On the matter of the most explosive charge of drug distribution, Ferguson and Brown mentioned four white police officers. ‘“Two white police officers were involved in one of the largest steroid distribution activities,’” Rev. Brown said. ‘“Two other officers were involved in a cocaine situation. An officer’s family member was arrested in the officer’s house. He was not investigated. It makes no sense to us: a family member was arrested for cocaine in his house and he was not even questioned?’”Ferguson said city officials were well aware of the allegations of drug distribution within the department.’“That information is out there,’” she said. ‘“It is known and the city needs to reveal it.’”The next day Johnson, the city manager, said he had not heard about any drug distribution. He sounded somewhat stunned when informed of the allegations.’“If any of that kind of thing had come to light we would have at that point started a criminal process,’” he said. ‘“That’s not been the case.’”Johnson said the department’s internal investigation is being carried out by the book and with documentation of each step.’“I can tell you that the people involved in these processes, none of them are part of the problems that have been brought to me,’” he said. ‘“The people who are handling this are some of the most trusted people in the department.’” The city manager said that any police officer who believed those carrying out the internal investigation were involved in criminal activities should feel comfortable coming to speak to him directly if they felt unable to confide in the police chief or either of the commanders in charge of internal affairs or criminal investigations. Communication between the city manager and the Pulpit Forum appears to have hit an impasse.Johnson said he had expected to meet with Rev. Ferguson and Chief Bellamy on Feb. 24, but was informed by the chief that Ferguson had canceled the meeting. On March 1 Bellamy left town for a week or so, members of his staff said.When asked by reporters if she planned to meet the city manager, Ferguson suggested she had lost faith in the fruitfulness of dialogue with city officials.’“What we’re trying to prevent is what has been put before the public time and again: that ‘it’s confidential, it’s confidential, it’s confidential,”” she said. ‘“We speculate, with good reason, that they’re going to tell us it’s confidential.’”Johnson said as much the next day.’“At the end of it when we’re complete I’ve committed to being very public about the issues we’ve dealt with ‘— no matter how uncomfortable it is,’” he said. ‘“The city council members have said, ‘We’ll discuss it when the time comes.’ In the meantime you need to trust that your elected officials are doing the right thing.’”Some of the strain of conducting damage control in an office constrained by both employee confidentiality statutes and the varied politics of the nine city council members to whom he answers was evident in the city manager’s voice. ‘“I’ve been very disappointed and shocked with some of the stuff I had to deal with,’” he said. ‘“If you had told me a year ago this is what would be happening I would have never believed you.’”To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at