Archives

RMA report: Wray ‘crippled’ GSO Police Department

by Jordan Green

As the city of Greensboro begins a search for a new chief of police, snowballing resentments stemming from the ousting of former Chief David Wray have unleashed a power struggle involving a local conservative newspaper hurling accusations at the city manager, a special intelligence officer getting suspended from the force and a sharply worded exchange between the current interim police chief and the US Attorney’s office.

The rancor has generally centered on conflicting claims about how the Greensboro Police Department was run under Wray, with city staff and many council members pointing to a confidential report and an ongoing state criminal investigation as justification for the former chief’s removal, and with The Rhinoceros Times and its supporters drawing attention to the sordid activities of a group of officers investigated by Wray’s administration to suggest that the chief was treated unfairly. In the process of its reporting the newspaper has drawn the disapproving attention of both the Greensboro Police Department and the US Attorney’s office for releasing the names of cooperating witnesses in two missing person investigations that potentially involved homicides.

“The release has potentially compromised two ongoing missing persons/homicide investigations and your staff stated that it has also negatively affected ongoing federal investigations,” interim Chief Tim Bellamy wrote in an Oct. 6 letter to US Attorney Anna Mills Wagoner following a meeting between the staffs of their respective agencies. “There is no question in my mind that the act of releasing this information has the potential of endangering lives.”

Bellamy expressed concern that the US Attorney’s office was not sufficiently alarmed by the leak. In a hand-delivered written response dated Oct. 11 Wagoner insisted otherwise.

“With regard to the apparent disclosure of sensitive law enforcement information, I assure you we are gravely concerned about that matter and its potential impact, not only on the investigations being conducted by GPD, but also on the multi-jurisdictional federal narcotics investigations to which it refers.” Wagoner added that members of her staff were meeting with Bellamy’s internal affairs division as she wrote to assist with a probe of the leak.

The series of articles in question has focused on Wray’s concerns about a range of activities by a black police lieutenant, James Hinson, who was suspended in June 2005. More than six months later, Wray resigned after being locked out of his office, and Hinson was reinstated by City Manager Mitchell Johnson. The News & Record first revealed Hinson’s association with drug dealer Elton Turnbull in January 2006, and other news accounts followed. The Rhinoceros Times began publishing its investigative series in August.

On the same day the chief put his misgivings in writing, the publisher of the hard-charging newspaper was floating a rumor at a press conference held at the Melvin Municipal Building that might have suggested to some that the city manager to whom Wray once answered was motivated by personal rather than professional considerations in his personnel decisions.

“The question about the personal vendetta that you have with David Wray, the follow-up to that whole myth, which we get a lot in our office, is that at some point you and David Wray dated the same woman,” publisher William Hammer informed City Manager Mitchell Johnson. “I would like for you to either confirm or deny that part of the myth.”

“I met my wife when I was a freshman in college and we got married in 1987,” Johnson replied, “which is before I had really ever met David Wray except for passing him in the hall, and I positively, absolutely have not been involved in any affairs of any kind that are extramarital.”

Still Hammer persisted: “I didn’t say ‘affair.’ I said ‘dated.’ I don’t know when it was. I don’t know a timeline, but there are numerous’….”

“Well I can assure you there’s nobody else that I’ve dated besides my wife,” Johnson interrupted. “Sorry, I’m just not a person that’s been around a lot.”

In addition to announcing a loose timeline for selecting a new chief, Johnson also reiterated that the Guilford County district attorney had turned information provided by the city to the State Bureau of Investigation to determine whether any criminal activity had taken place in the police department under Wray’s administration.

“I didn’t expect that their investigation would take this long,” Johnson said, “but I will never criticize the amount of time and resources that is dedicated by the SBI.”

Soon afterward the police department would suspend Scott Sanders, a special intelligence officer reputed to be the point man for Wray’s efforts to nail Hinson -‘ a development that raised a howl of protest from the front page of the Oct. 12 issue of The Rhinoceros Times.

“We now know how City Manager Mitch Johnson is going to respond to the series Cops In Black & White by Jerry Bledsoe, published in this newspaper,” editor John Hammer wrote. “Johnson is going to attack the police officers who were doing their jobs, if their jobs interfered with the activities of one Greensboro police lieutenant, James Hinson.

“Here’s a reason Sanders may have been suspended,” Hammer continued. “Hinson may have asked that Sanders be suspended, because it certainly appears that Hinson is in the driver’s seat at the Greensboro Police Department these days.”

A confidential report completed for the city of Greensboro by Risk Management Associates in December 2005 suggests there was good reason for police administration to be concerned about the behavior of Hinson and some other black officers, but Hinson was investigated over a period of three years and no evidence of criminality was reportedly found. Moreover, the report alleges, white officers found to be engaged in similarly suspicious activities were not subjected to the same scrutiny.

According to the document, a copy of which was recently obtained by YES! Weekly, Risk Management Associates was enlisted in October 2005 to assist city staff members who had already begun a probe of complaints against Wray. The charge given to the consulting team, which included former Fayetteville Police Department homicide detective Brian Flannery, former SBI investigator Wayne Truax and two others, was “to provide a continuous objective oversight of the investigative process to ensure that it remained unbiased and that it followed accepted investigative practices.”

Some critics challenge the credibility of the report, even if few have read it. “We need to be careful with respect to our interpretation of the contents of this report,” Rockingham County doctor Joseph Guarino wrote in an Oct. 12 weblog. “We cannot automatically assume its reliability. It was purchased under conditions that were extremely charged politically.”

The consultants at Risk Management Associates appear to have gone straight to the heart of Wray’s suspicions about Hinson, and found no evidence to support the former chief’s contention, as reportedly conveyed to the city manager, deputy city manager and city attorney, “that Lieutenant Hinson was suspected for an extended period of time of being associated with the activities of a narcotics smuggling organization in Greensboro.”

Hinson’s associations with the drug dealer Elton Turnbull have been widely reported. As the document prepared by Risk Management Associates details: “The facts and circumstances confirm that Hinson owned rental property that he and his wife at the time rented to [Toshia] Withers. Withers was a girlfriend and co-conspirator of Turnbull. Hinson began an intimate relationship with Withers and eventually sold this rental property to Turnbull. There was no evidence that Hinson knew or should have known about Turnbull’s illegal activity uncovered by this investigation. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Agency did not learn of Turnbull’s drug trafficking until 2000. More importantly, if Hinson was involved and Turnbull confirmed that fact, it would have helped Turnbull with his sentence. Turnbull stated repeatedly that Hinson was not involved in his drug cartel and would have had no reason to know of them.”

The report calls into question Wray’s alleged description at a June 17, 2005 press conference of a wide-ranging investigation involving multiple agencies and the former chief’s alleged statement that he had only recently been given approval to “move on” information that had developed during an investigation of Greensboro police officers. While Wray did not mention Hinson by name, it did not escape reporters that on the same day he put the lieutenant on administrative leave.

“At no time did the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina nor did an OCDETF (organized crime drug enforcement task force) investigation ever prevent or impede the Greensboro Police Department in its efforts to investigate Lieutenant Hinson for any criminal or administrative malfeasance,” the report concluded. “Contrary to insinuations made by Chief Wray, the fact is that Lieutenant Hinson was never under investigation by the US Attorney’s Office or the target of an OCDETF investigation.”

Asked about the report’s finding, Lynne Klauer, a spokeswoman for Wagoner, declined to comment on Oct. 14. But Wagoner’s Oct. 11 letter to interim Chief Bellamy suggests that her office had little if any involvement in the investigation of Hinson. “I find it unfortunate that matters which began as GPD personnel decisions, in which our office had no involvement,” she wrote, “have clouded the relationship between our offices and diverted time and energy from our missions.”

Johnson publicly disclosed one salient finding of the report by Risk Management Associates in January 2006: Hinson had been cleared of any criminal liability in 2003 and cleared again by the department’s internal affairs division in 2004. Nonetheless, he was suspended in 2005.

Sanders, the special intelligence officer recently suspended from the force, was reportedly a key figure in Wray’s inner circle.

“The ‘secret police’ unit of the Greensboro Police Department is embedded within the Special Investigative Division’s Special Intelligence Section,” the report states. “It consisted of Scott Sanders, sometimes his sergeant, and anyone else Sanders drafted to assist him in his investigative activity. The unit was under the supervision of the Deputy Chief of Police [Randall Brady]. Its secrecy was in part maintained by the fact that over the last three years, Brady has been placed in charge of the unit’s activities even though he has moved within the organization and/or promoted several times. The unit moved with him and so did his direct contact and his direct report to Chief Wray. This suggests a deliberate effort by the chief to keep Brady in a position to keep him informed of sensitive and secret activity of this unit.”

Seth Cohen, a lawyer for Sanders and Brady, noted that Sanders is under a “gag” order because of the SBI investigation and could not comment on the veracity of the account. He declined to comment on the allegations about both clients contained in the Risk Management Associates report. “As long as there’s a criminal investigation my position is, no comment,” Cohen said. “When the investigation is completed and no charges are filed -‘ hopefully – then I’m sure we’ll be glad to talk.”

The notion that the scrutiny placed on Hinson was part of federal investigation served to insulate the “secret police” unit from accountability, the report suggests: “The secrecy of the unit also emerged from the fact that Sanders operated under a veil of secrecy associated with the OCDETF efforts underway at the US Attorney’s office. The Deputy Chief and Chief Wray also used this cloak of secrecy and alleged connection in their descriptions of the investigations by Sanders’ unit. That misleading association was furthered by the tone and inferences of the chief’s press release and in his communications with the City Manager, Deputy City Manager, City Attorney, the media and others.”

David Wray was invited to respond to the allegations outlined in the report through an interview request made with one of his lawyers, Ken Keller, on Oct. 13. The former chief did not respond by Monday at 5 p.m. – press time for this publication.

If Hinson was not someone in whom federal law enforcement officials took interest, the recent correspondence between the US Attorney’s office and interim Chief Bellamy makes it clear that other federal investigations actually have overlapped with probes by the Greensboro Police Department. Bellamy wrote that “for several months now the State Bureau of Investigation has attempted to clarify the role of the United States Attorney’s Office in directing the actions of the former Special Intelligence Section but this issue still remains unresolved.”

Wagoner responded that, based on advice from the US Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, her office suggested to Jim Coman, a special investigator with the NC Department of Justice, that he submit questions in writing.

Wagoner also made mention of “the Nicole Pettiford case,” referring to a Greensboro woman described in the Risk Management Associates report as a former hotel night clerk, who was questioned by Sanders for more than six hours at a hotel room one time with US Attorney Cliff Barrett in attendance. While investigating a drug dealer, the Risk Management Associates consultants found, Sanders learned that Pettiford had bragged that she knew police officers who would sell her confidential information.

Apparently under pressure from Sanders, Pettiford cooperated in an effort to test black police officers. The report details extensive efforts by Pettiford to enlist assistance from two black police officers for allegedly criminal purposes through phone calls facilitated by Sanders. In both cases, criminal investigations were opened and the officers were ultimately cleared of wrongdoing. The report takes pains to note that – in contrast to other departmental investigations undertaken against black officers – Pettiford’s calls may have been part of “a larger legitimate federal criminal investigation.”

Lt. Brian James, formerly the spokesman for David Wray and currently assigned to the criminal investigations division, became one of the targets.

James became acquainted with Pettiford when she was a night clerk at the Ramada Inn and he worked there off duty, the report states. Pettiford reportedly attempted to contact James numerous times by phone between April and October 2004, after she left the job. He rarely called her back. In one of the last calls, she asked him if he would help her, but the report states that before she could tell him what she wanted, James interrupted: “Why would I help you?”

They last saw each other in the parking lot of the Sam’s Club on Wendover Avenue in October 2004. According to the report, Sanders was keeping Pettiford under surveillance and took pictures of her with Lt. James.

James reported directly to Wray, and rather than counsel James to stay away from Pettiford – as was reportedly the practice with white officers – the Risk Management Associates report found that that special intelligence continued to monitor James and “questioned him from a criminal perspective.”

In other instances detailed in the report, Pettiford allegedly tried to interest a black police officer who was on administrative leave and working at an auto repair shop in stolen televisions, and she allegedly asked another black officer to run a criminal background check on a friend who was in trouble with the federal authorities. In both cases the officers reportedly advised Pettiford to steer clear of illegal activity and avoid individuals engaged in criminality.

Whether the actions of Wray and his circle could be considered racial discrimination, harassment, intimidation or cruel caprice, or if he was only guilty of overzealous efforts to root corruption out of a department careening out of control might depend on perspective and one’s position in his administration.

One reporter at Mitchell Johnson’s Oct. 6 press conference asked if Wray had done anything illegal.

“I can’t say that,” the city manager answered.

From a management perspective, the authors of the Risk Management Association report concluded in December 2005 that Wray’s administration had been a disaster. They cited the chief’s unwillingness to accept the results of yet another investigation of Hinson that had not panned out and claimed that he tried to alter documents to conform to a preconceived notion of his target’s guilt.

“Wray is currently presenting an argument in an effort to support his inappropriate and unnecessary decision to suspend Hinson,” they wrote. “In dialogue to justify his position to change the findings, he has disputed the factual basis of the findings presented by this independent review. Wray instead continues with his effort to associate and justify his actions by ‘connecting the dots’ to the Turnbull OCDETF. This last-ditch effort should be seen as his final attempt to cover up Wray’s mismanagement failures that have crippled the good order of the Greensboro Police Department.”

The findings of the Risk Management Associates team are now in the hands of the State Bureau of Investigation.

“It is our intention that when this investigation is completed, the citizens will have every reason to believe that a complete and thorough investigation was done,” wrote Coman, the NC Department of Justice investigator, in an affidavit submitted for a lawsuit filed by former Deputy Chief Brady against the city of Greensboro. “This is so, whether individuals are absolved of wrongdoing, or in the event the allegations prove to rise to the level of a criminal offense, that charges can be brought against the offenders.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

Share: