SBI deputy: ‘Black book’ may be used as evidence in trial

by Jordan Green

The so-called “black book,” an item that has stoked fears in Greensboro’s black community of widespread racial profiling and that City Manager Mitchell Johnson has said contributed to his loss of trust in former police Chief David Wray, is being held as evidence by the NC State Bureau of Investigation, a recent e-mail from the agency’s lead investigator in a criminal case against two former police officers indicates.

“When the Attorney General’s office and the SBI undertook this investigation on June 9, 2006, I spoke to the city manager, the city attorney and the leadership of the Greensboro Police Department and asked them not to release information or items of potential evidence into the public domain that could compromise the investigation or jeopardize the rights of those being investigated,” wrote Senior Deputy Attorney General James J. Coman in a Jan. 14 e-mail to Martin Erwin, an attorney with Smith Moore law firm who serves as outside counsel for the city of Greensboro.

Coman said he would not allow the city council to view the original copy of the black book in closed session because it was in the possession of the SBI and might be used as evidence at the criminal trial of at least one of two defendants. Detective Scott Sanders and Sgt. Tom Fox, both of whom served in the special intelligence section under Wray, have been indicted for obstruction of justice and other alleged offenses.

Council members did look at a copy of the black book during closed session on Jan. 15.

In a November 2005 interview, Michael Longmire, a consultant brought in by the city to investigate the police department, told then-Deputy Chief Randall Brady: “Every prostitute, every junkie, just about anybody in Greensboro or Guilford County or surrounding counties that might have information about the inappropriate activities of a black Greensboro police officer has been shown some kind of a book or lineup or something. I mean, that’s an exaggeration, but that’s the – you know, that’s the concern.

In a set of written responses to questions posed by Johnson, Wray described the black book in a February 2006 memo as a “photo array used with 19 male black officers contained in a black three-ringed binder,” characterizing it as a standard investigative tool.

The city manager said pictures of the black officers were placed on separate pages amidst five pictures of African Americans who are not police employees, but who share similar features and, like the police officers shown, tend to be young adults. On the back of each page is a photo of the police officer identified by name.

The Rev. Greg Headen, pastor of Genesis Baptist Church and now president of the Pulpit Forum, articulated a fear circulating in the black community that citizens were also targeted for investigation through the black book. Johnson said there are no photographs of prominent black leaders in the lineup. Johnson said he was told the photographs were drawn from a state Division of Motor Vehicles database.

Johnson said the explanation he received for the black book is that it was created after a prostitute alleged she was groped by an arresting police officer. He questioned why 19 officers were included in the lineup instead of only the arresting officer, and why the case would have been handled by special intelligence instead of the criminal investigation division.

As a senior deputy attorney general with responsibility for criminal investigations, Coman is one of the state’s top state law enforcement officials and someone with Greensboro roots. Near the beginning of his career he served as in-house attorney for the Greensboro Police Department. Later, as a Guilford County assistant district attorney, Coman was part of the state prosecution team that handled the Klan-Nazi shooting that took place in 1979.

Coman said in his e-mail that he has received phone calls from two Greensboro City Council members asking to see the black book. City hall has taken heat from some quarters for not releasing the item. Critics have suggested that the city manager is withholding it because public disclosure might reveal that the city falsely used it to cast aspersions on the former chief’s integrity.

That’s not the case, Coman indicated in his e-mail.

“To my knowledge [the city has] complied with my request and apparently have been criticized in some circles for complying with my request not to release anything that would be harmful to the rights of the accused or could hurt the investigation,” he wrote. “This case is proof of how difficult it is to protect the rights of the accused and to keep the city leaders and the public informed.”

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