Sgt. Fox latest to be suspended from GPD

by Jordan Green

The former head of the Greensboro Police Department’s special intelligence unit under departed Chief David Wray was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 27, bringing to a total of three the number of officers suspended in October as the department wraps up an administrative probe and a criminal investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation continues.

Tom Fox, the 46-year-old former special intelligence head who had been transferred to the department’s western division on Swing Road, was “put on administrative leave with pay pending investigation,” Human Resources Department Director Connie Hammond said Monday.

Efforts to reach Fox for comment proved unsuccessful.

Fox’s suspension follows that of Assistant Chief Annie Stevenson, 54, who took leave on Oct. 16, and 41-year-old Scott Sanders, a detective who had worked under Fox in special intelligence and was identified by the city-commissioned Risk Management Associates report as having primary responsibility for investigating Lt. James Hinson. A black police officer, Hinson has been a lightning rod for suspicion because of his association with women in the sex trade, but the US Attorney’s office determined he was not involved in international drug trafficking, as was believed by Wray and others in his administration.

Sanders headed a so-called “secret police” unit that the Risk Management Associates team determined to have been embedded in the special intelligence section headed by Fox. The consultants found that Sanders generally reported directly to Deputy Chief Randall Brady, who continued to directly supervise special intelligence even as he moved up through the ranks of command. Brady abruptly retired from the force on Nov. 30, 2005 after being confronted with inconsistencies in his statements to Risk Management Associates.

The role of special intelligence came under scrutiny in January with the city’s claim that the unit carried out an extensive 16-month investigation of Hinson that continued after an internal affairs probe cleared the lieutenant of administrative violations. According to the report by Risk Management Associates that provided the basis for City Manager Mitchell Johnson’s eventual confrontation with Wray, the former police chief misrepresented Hinson as being implicated in an international drug cartel and directed that an internal affairs report be revised to mirror his preconceptions.

Fox’s suspension has brought cries of protest from some observers of the unfolding controversy in the police department.

“I’ve been wrong about people but he strikes me as a being the ideal policeman and I always respected his directness and honesty,” said John D. Young, a retired furniture storeowner who is active with New Garden Friends Meeting. Young said he got to know Fox when the two men’s sons played soccer and baseball together about six years ago, and later when the special intelligence head coordinated security with the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I feel sadness over the situation that such a good solid policeman would be tied up in this mess,” Young added. “I am hoping the city council starts getting off the couch and gets involved in this. I don’t think they can be in the background. We’ve got to get more facts.”

While some have raised objections to the police department’s recent purge, others -particularly leaders in the city’s African-American community -‘ have complained about the attention focused on Hinson.

“They either need to charge the gentleman or apologize,” said Gladys Shipman, president of the Greensboro chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and owner of Shipman Family Care. “Bring some dignity back to our police department. When will the investigation reveal the whole truth? The NAACP, we’re not here trying to keep it in the public eye. We’ve got too many things to worry about.

“I can’t keep thinking I’m going to support a city that does this,” she continued. “They need to clear some of this air. There is nothing wrong with saying, ‘We made a mistake.'”

In fact, Johnson has expressed contrition for the way Hinson was treated. Announcing that the lieutenant would be returned to duty and his record cleared, the city manager stated in a press conference following Wray’s resignation in January 2005: “On behalf of the City of Greensboro I regret the way in which Lieutenant Hinson’s case was handled and wish him success in his continued career with the Greensboro Police Department.”

Johnson declined to comment on Monday about either black leaders’ calls for “closure” or others’ concerns about whether the police department’s recent administrative actions were fair, stating only that he is generally notified when suspensions takes place.

In a staff memo dated Oct. 26 that was obtained by YES! Weekly the city manager wrote that he did not expect an internal police investigation launched by interim Chief Tim Bellamy to take so long, “but the simple truth is that the investigation is requiring this amount of time and effort. I will not apologize for allowing people to do their job to the fullest of their ability. At this time, the administrative investigation is largely complete. However, during the investigation, information was developed that indicated the possibility of criminal violations, and the SBI investigation is still underway.”

Johnson indicated that one of his employees asked how they should respond when asked about the controversy.

“I told the employee to tell the person to be patient and to allow the system to work,” he wrote, “and not make any judgments based on what they might see or read in the media because the media does not have access to the information they would need to fully and accurately report the issues.”

Johnson also reiterated that he believes the city’s efforts to date are “entirely appropriate and necessary,” and stated that the city’s core values were honesty, integrity, stewardship and respect.

“They are the values for which we should be willing to ‘fall on our sword,'” he wrote.

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