Scrutiny of Wray as two officers indicted
The recent indictments of two former members of the Greensboro Police Department’s special intelligence section, Sgt. Tom Fox and Officer Scott Sanders, throw into relief a pattern of harassment and extralegal investigative practices under former Chief David Wray.
Among four indictments handed down by a Guilford County grand jury on Sept. 17 is a charge of felonious obstruction of justice alleging that Sanders, who is white, instructed a fellow Greensboro police officer to not allow officers Norman Rankin and Ernest Cuthbertson, two fellow detectives on the intelligence squad who are black, to meet with a confidential informant.
“We can’t let that happen,” Sanders is alleged to have told Officer John Slone when he was informed that Rankin was insisting on talking directly to the informant. When told that the investigation would remain stalled until Rankin gained the requested access, the indictment alleges that Sanders responded, “That’s what we want; we don’t want this investigation to go forward. What we want is for them to fail.”
A second obstruction of justice charge alleges that Sanders tricked a State Bureau of Investigation agent into searching the hard drive of a computer provided to Officer Julius Fulmore, a black detective with a storied career as an undercover investigator in drug cases across the state and a perfect conviction record, by the US Department of Housing & Urban Development for use on federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force cases.
The indictment of Fox alleges that the sergeant who headed the intelligence unit was present when Sanders instructed Slone and a Winston-Salem police officer to not share evidence with Rankin and Cuthbertson.
“The clear implication of what was being said by Sanders and [Fox],” the indictment states, “was to portray Officers Rankin and Cuthbertson in a bad light and imply they were ‘dirty cops’ and ‘couldn’t be trusted.'”
Lawyers for both men said the defendants plan to plead not guilty.
While allegations of corruption have swirled around several black officers since Chief David Wray resigned in January 2006, Cuthbertson and Rankin are not among them. Cuthbertson, the department’s resident gang expert, has earned the ill will of Greensboro’s left-activist community in separate incidents – once in June 2005 when he got into a shouting match with an anarchist who objected to police protection for Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Virgil Griffin at a Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing, and another time in January 2006 when he was alleged to have punched a protester and pulled his gun at a demonstration against President Bush’s state of the union address after objections were raised to the undercover officer videotaping the license plates of parked cars.
That has not been the case with Fulmore, who has been the object of a sustained smear campaign in a Greensboro weekly newspaper and local blogs. The attacks on Fulmore’s character have been based on the unfounded allegations of a female inmate held by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office that Fulmore was involved in drug trafficking, and on an administrative violation that resulted in the officer being placed on paid leave after he admitted to failing to document contact with a prostitute.
Along with Lt. James Hinson, City Manager Mitchell Johnson, City Attorney Linda Miles and various members of the city council, Fulmore has found himself at the center of a public perception battle waged by Wray’s supporters based on the claim that the former chief and his special intelligence unit were pursuing credible allegations of corruption on the part of black officers. According to this narrative, Wray’s efforts were short-circuited by the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the black political action committee named after the late George Simkins, and subsequently halted by white city officials cowed by the fear of being accused of racism.
City leaders have gone to great lengths to avoid framing the alleged wrongdoing under Wray’s administration in racial terms.
“We have been accused of playing the race card,” Johnson said during a press conference on Sept. 21. “City management did everything it could to make sure this was not a racial issue. That’s why we brought in a third- party investigator, Risk Management Associates.”
In a February 2006 memo among a sheaf of documents recently released by the city, Tim Bellamy, then interim police chief, reported to Johnson that “After meeting with different citizens groups, and getting input from officers of all ranks, it appears that morale within the department is improving. It should be noted that neither I, nor the city manager’s office, have indicated that the issues being investigated are racial in nature. I do not want this to be a black vs. white department. We all wear the same badge.”
And yet the disparate treatment of black and white police officers has been at the heart of the scandal since the first media reports surfaced in June 2005.
In a letter to the city attorney dated Nov. 11, 2005, Risk Management Associates Vice President Michael Longmire reported that “numerous miscellaneous complaints regarding the management of the police department are apparent that include possible gender and racial bias, falsification of training documents and other official police documents, and the possible failure to investigate complaints alleging misconduct involving other police officers and city employees.”
Johnson pointedly described the significance of the indictments in terms that would give no ammunition to those who would accuse officials of pandering to the city’s black residents.
“I have been asked, ‘Does the indictment of two low-level officers justify all that we’ve been through?'” the city manager reported. “These indictments were for felony obstruction of justice. These are not trivial concerns. Obstruction of justice to an officer of the law is what embezzlement is to an accountant or cruelty to animals is to a veterinarian.”
A civil suit filed by Fulmore in May also largely avoids mentioning race. Instead the suit, which names as defendants the city, the indicted intelligence detective, the former chief and five other officers, alleges a conspiracy to damage the veteran officer’s career.
The lawsuit paints a portrait of a fiercely driven black lawman who, along with current Chief Tim Bellamy, made the first known crack arrest in North Carolina.
“From the late 1980s until the early 1990s, Officer Fulmore received two DEA recognition awards, and cases on which he worked with other law enforcement agencies brought in millions of dollars of drug and money seizures (a majority of which money was turned over to GPD for furthering their law enforcement activities),” the lawsuit reads.” Officer Fulmore never lost a case that was tried.”
The suit suggests that Fulmore’s success caused professional jealousy by Sanders and Officer Brian Bissett, alleging that the two, “with the consent and approval of the GPD, formulated a plan and conspiracy… to create and disseminate false statements about Officer Fulmore, intending to ruin his reputation and obstruct him from continuing work on federal task forces, gaining further promotions, earning higher wages….”
After Sanders was assigned to the special intelligence section in 2002, the lawsuit states that “Fulmore learned that Sanders and Bissett were secretly intruding on the employment and personal lives of Officer Fulmore and other black officers.”
Bissett’s lawyer, G. Gray Wilson, did not return calls for this story.
Being the target of surveillance by white officers on the intelligence squad heaped intense stress on Fulmore, the lawsuit suggests. “Officer Fulmore detected on his telephone noises and dropped calls, consistent with eavesdropping,” it reads. “He feared that he was being set up; he feared for his life and his profession.”
The fraught public discourse in the days following the recent indictments has centered as much on the relationship between the former police chief and the city manager as on the activities of the special intelligence section. Responding to the suggestion by one of Wray’s lawyers that the former chief was forced out, the city council voted on Sept. 18 to release the transcript of the final meeting between Johnson and Wray on Jan. 6, 2006.
Early in the conversation, Johnson raised the question of whether special intelligence’s activities were authorized and approved by the chief.
“They either did what they did to some degree without you knowing about it and your finding out about it later or they did what they did with you knowing about it and you directing them or knowing about it and allowing it to continue,” Johnson said. “Either way it’s a serious issue, obviously.”
Later in the meeting Wray provided a cautious response to that question.
“There were mistakes made in this thing, and some people dropped the ball in different places and things weren’t coordinated right and I knew it and actually held up dealing any further because you folks started your investigation,” he said quietly. “If you recall, when we sat with the three minority officers and Joe Williams, they brought up about twelve or fourteen different cases which I immediately went downstairs and asked that folks review. And those came back and none of those divided up among the assistant chiefs had any finding that there was any kind of problem with those investigations and I forwarded that information to you.”
Wray had assigned the investigation into the allegations of unfair treatment to Deputy Chief Randall Brady, to whom the special intelligence section reported. In September 2005, Brady reported to Wray that “the review revealed no actions taken by departmental employees that were not standard practice for the criminal or administrative charges alleged.”
More than a month later, Wray reported up the chain of command to the city manager that all was well within the department.
“In every case, the person charged with conducting the review found there was no impropriety on the part of the agency or any departmental member involved in the administrative investigation,” he wrote. “These findings confirm my belief that the Greensboro Police Department is consistent and equitable with regard to its internal review practices and that employees are treated fairly and appropriately with respect to their specific circumstances.”
Among the more startling revelations contained in the city’s recent flood of disclosure was a statement by Risk Management Associates’ Michael Longmire.
“I only wish that Mr. Wray had been locked out that day,” the private investigator said in reference to the final meeting between Johnson and the former chief. “Due to some confusion by city employees, the locks were not changed and Wray was able to return to his office. He was observed removing boxes of personal possessions and other unknown documents. His office was cleaned out.”
The origin of sensitive personnel and investigative documents that have been used to tarnish the reputations of black officers suspected of corruption has long been a source of speculation.
Ken Keller, a lawyer for Wray, said on Monday that his client retrieved mostly personal things from his office.
“David cleared off the top of his desk,” Keller said. “He took the papers that were on there, popped them in his briefcase – personal stuff: his daytimer, his asthma medicine, his checkbook.”
Keller did not rule out that possibility that at some point his client may have removed confidential personnel or investigative files from his office.
“It’s my understanding that he had no originals of anything in his office,” he said. “David typically would work on things at home. It’s entirely possible that he had copies of some things at home. I can tell you that after meeting with Mitch, he did not take any confidential stuff from his office.”
The NC Department of Justice has declined to comment publicly on the investigation headed by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jim Coman, with the exception of a statement by spokeswoman Jennifer Canada noting that agents investigated several “potential violations of the law, including: illegal wiretaps, extortion, illegally accessing government computers, obstruction of justice, failure to discharge official duties, misuse of position by public officials, altering or falsifying documents, kidnapping and felonious restraint.”
The press release also notes that “some issues were determined to be criminal violations that could not be pursued or prosecuted because the two-year statute of limitations on misdemeanors had lapsed by the time sufficient evidence was brought to light.”
Whether more indictments can be expected remains unclear.
“The answer that I will give based on my conversation with Jim Coman,” the city manager said, “is that he considers this investigation fluid.”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.