Whistleblower and police chief at odds over Klan-Nazi files
An investigation by the Greensboro Police Department partially substantiates claims by a patrolman formerly assigned to the force’s special intelligence squad that files related to the 1979 Klan-Nazi killings were destroyed, but cleared the department of wrongdoing and presented information suggesting no nefarious intent motivated the incident.
Amiel Rossabi, a lawyer for Officer Julius “Jay” Fulmore, said his client refused an order to destroy about 50 boxes of files related to the shootings, in which Klansmen and Nazis killed five members of the Communist Workers Party at Morningside Homes. Greensboro police officers were nearby when the violence took place, but did not intervene until after Klansmen and Nazis fled the scene.
“I can’t understand it: My client was under the false impression that all he had to do was tell what happened [with the files] and everything would be corroborated,” Rossabi said, his voice betraying obvious frustration. “As far as I can tell, either they have corroborated it and the city was unwilling to take the heat, or nobody was willing to tell the truth about what their role was.”
The order to destroy the files, Fulmore alleges, was given at the time of the inception of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a nongovernmental effort to shed light on the circumstances of the killings. The commission was empaneled in May 2004, and Rossabi said his client is certain that the order by Craig McMinn, then a sergeant in command of the special intelligence section, was given just before Fulmore was suspended from the force in June 2004. Fulmore has also alleged that he was previously assigned to attend speeches given by the Rev. Nelson Johnson, one of the anti-Klan activists in 1979 and now a vocal proponent of the truth process.
The department’s findings, announced by Chief Tim Bellamy on May 12, contradict significant parts of Fulmore’s allegation. Bellamy said the department’s professional standards division found that only five to 10 boxes of newspaper clippings were destroyed, and he said the files were thrown out in late 2001 or early 2002. The police investigation also concluded that McMinn followed all state and departmental procedures.
Bellamy said the professional standards division arrived at its conclusions by interviewing 13 current and former employees. The accounts, he said, revealed “enough consistency” to support the finding. He declined to say whether any of the other officers corroborated Fulmore’s assertion that the files were thrown out in 2004.
The variance in timing between the two accounts is significant because a change in leadership took place in the interim. Robert White, now chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department, headed the force at the time in which Bellamy asserted that the files were destroyed. In contrast, Fulmore alleges the boxes were thrown out in 2004, when David Wray, a controversial former police chief accused of mismanagement and discrimination against black officers, headed the department.
Fulmore has found himself an object of loathing among many of Wray’s supporters, who have recycled unfounded allegations in numerous blog posts and newspaper articles that the officer provided protection for a drug dealer. Fulmore was placed on administrative leave in June 2004, when he was investigated over an assignation with a mistress at a hotel room. Only one administrative violation arose from the lengthy investigation – failing to appropriately document contact with a prostitute – before Fulmore returned to duty.
Rossabi expressed skepticism about Bellamy’s statement that the boxes contained only newspaper clippings, and not official police files that might have afforded richer insights into the violence of 1979. He argued that the city’s response to his client’s allegations has been rife with inconsistencies – first refusing to look into the allegations, then treating them as a criminal matter, later stating that disposal of the files was handled appropriately, and finally investigating the matter before again concluding that everything was on the up and up.
“The act of destruction can be confirmed or denied, and it can be the subject of independent verification,” Rossabi said. “What’s in the boxes, unless there’s an index and a summary and they’re numbered one through two-hundred, can’t be confirmed. My client never said he knew what was in the boxes. He said, ‘I was asked to destroy truth and reconciliation documents, and I refused to do it. One of my fellow officers kept a couple boxes out.’ The real story is not what was in them, but when and why they were destroyed.”
Fulmore’s allegations, first publicized in February by the Rev. Johnson and three other pastors, raised the question of whether members of the command staff authorized the destruction of the files in a deliberate attempt to evade the truth commission’s efforts to obtain information that would shed light on the events of Nov. 3, 1979. The finding that the sole contents of the boxes were newspaper clippings, if true, would suggest a more innocuous motive.
“If that’s the case, from the beginning come out with a memo that says, ‘Hey, we need the shelf space,’ or, ‘Hey, it’s been 25 years, the library has them on fiche,’ or, ‘Hey, David Wray is part of this new regime that wants to have better organization,'” Rossabi said. “That’s what makes the city’s many explanations so implausible. If there was this innocuous explanation, Jay would not be the only one to know. McMinn would know. A lot of people would know.”
Beyond the fact that some quantity of files related to the 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings was destroyed by the department, Bellamy and Fulmore agreed on at least one other thing: Bellamy acknowledged that during the course of the investigation a box of files was returned to the department that had been retained by an employee. Through Rossabi, Fulmore identified that employee as Cpl. Ernest Cuthbertson, like himself a former member of special intelligence. Reached by phone in March, Cuthbertson expressed surprise at the allegation and abruptly ended the conversation.
Putting aside the question of why the boxes were thrown out, the city noted: “Under state law, all files related to the Klan-Nazi shootings could have legally been destroyed in 1999.” The Municipal Records Retention and Disposition Schedule published by the NC Department of Cultural Affairs allows police departments to destroy all types of records 20 years after their creation.
The Rev. Johnson greeted the news that the police department had cleared itself of wrongdoing with wariness.
“It’s possible that they ran out of shelf space twenty-two years later and they decided they needed to clear the shelf space,” he said. “It’s more than a curiosity how the timing worked out. Given the history of the police department, it deserves closer scrutiny.”
Rossabi said Fulmore believes the boxes held more than newspaper clippings “based upon what [the city and police department are] saying now and their apparent cover-up in trying to say that this happened at a time other than the convening of the truth and reconciliation commission. Everything they’re doing suggests they’re trying to cover things up.”
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