Schools administrator says uniformed officer’s presence at dance was proper
This story is part of an irregular series on the troubled administration of the Greensboro police department. The city has stalled on releasing statistics indicating trends in the number of complaints received by the complaint review committee, which exercises outside oversight over the police department. Investigative reporting by YES! Weekly has uncovered a pattern of harassment, arbitrary profiling and inefficient policing against some citizens, coupled with hostile and disparate treatment directed at an officer who has called attention to racist and discriminatory behavior within the department.
Overall, the city and police administration’s response to allegations of corruption, discrimination and retaliation has been to hide behind state personnel law and the practice of not commenting on pending litigation to protect the reputation of the institution rather than the rights of employees.
YES! Weekly is inviting citizens who believe they have been treated improperly by officers of the Greensboro Police Department to submit their complaints to us for review. Our commitment is to follow the facts where they lead, make a determination to the best of our ability on the merits of the complaint, and to publish the results no matter what the outcome.
It is our hope that this project will prod the Greensboro Police Department toward strong and impartial police administration, toward law enforcement activities that uphold the rights of citizens and provide for efficient public safety, and toward whatever reforms are needed to maintain a relationship of trust between the community and the department responsible for its protection.
Lisa Morel is an employee of Adam and Eve, an adult products store on Spring Garden Street in Greensboro. She is feisty and opinionated. Lisa and her husband, John, live in an apartment building on Whilden Place near Grimsley High School, where their daughter, Sarah, is a student.
Over the years, the Morels have become friendly with a downstairs neighbor, Tonya Cooley, who has long been embroiled in a nasty custody battle with her ex-husband, Greensboro police Officer Eric H. Rasecke. Tonya Cooley and Eric Rasecke have two children together: Brittany, who is 15, and a younger daughter, who is 12. Sarah Morel and Brittany Rasecke have become particularly close. Sarah does modeling under her mother’s supervision; she is about two years old than Brittany.
Officer Rasecke’s presence in uniform at a Grimsley High School dance held at the Empire Room in downtown Greensboro on Oct. 24, 2010 caused concern to Lisa Morel. The following Monday, she held Sarah and out of school, and the two went down to police headquarters to file a complaint with the professional standards division. The incident and the police department’s handling of it raise concerns about corruption, Morel said.
In a recent interview, Sarah Morel recalled arriving at the dance with her date and meeting her friend, Brittany Rasecke, there. Both of Sarah’s parents were at the Empire Room, but did not go in to the dance. Eric Rasecke, Brittany’s father, and Danielle Rasecke, her stepmother — who is also a Greensboro police officer — were also present.
Sarah Morel said that Officer Rasecke went over to talk to Officer MW Ridgill, the school resource officer assigned to Grimsley High School and the person in charge of security for the dance. Sarah said Ridgill asked Rasecke if he was working that night, whether he was going on duty and whether he was going off duty. The answer to all three of those questions was no, she said. John Morel, who said he witnessed the exchange, concurred with his daughter’s account. A couple hours later, when Officer Rasecke returned to the Empire Room in uniform and stood inside the restricted dance area, Sarah and her parents concluded that he had abused his badge to gain entry and observe Sarah, and that he was not authorized to be there.
Officer Ridgill disputed that assertion in a recent interview.
“I can assure you that Officer Rasecke was assigned to work that night,” Ridgill said. “And, in fact, I requested his assistance.”
Officer Rasecke had been assigned to work off duty at Skateland USA on the night of the dance. Two bicycle officers had to leave the Grimsley High School dance at 10 p.m. to monitor the bars and the pedestrian stream along South Elm Street that tends to get progressively more rowdy as the night wears on.
Ridgill noted that Rasecke and his ex-wife are in the midst of a contentious domestic dispute. Lisa Morel said that Eric Rasecke appears to consider her daughter to be a bad influence.
Officer Danielle Rasecke indicated that she and her husband would have no comment on the matter. After two calls were placed to a phone number listed under her husband’s name, Danielle Rasecke appeared in uniform at the offices of YES! Weekly and threatened to bring charges against a reporter if any further phone calls were made to her residence.
Court documents underscore Eric Rasecke’s concern about his daughter’s supervision when she is in her mother’s care.
A motion filed by Eric Rasecke’s lawyer in April 2009 accuses Tonya Cooley of failing “to properly supervise the minor children. She has permitted one of the minor children to go to parties without adult supervision. This resulted in one of the minor children coming home from the party with a ‘hickey’ on her neck.”
For her part, Tonya Cooley has accused her ex-husband of physically abusing Brittany. Cooley’s niece said in a recent interview that she witnessed Eric Rasecke physically abuse Brittany. Those accusations have not been proven in a court of law. In fact, a Guilford County Superior Court judge ordered Cooley to pay $45,750 in damages to her ex-husband in a 2001 ruling that found she committed malicious prosecution and slander against him by falsely accusing him of beating her and trespassing on her property.
Responding to a request to look into Officer Rasecke’s presence at the Grimsley High School dance, Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr wrote in an e-mail: “The SRO was short one officer. When Officer Rasecke and his wife dropped their daughter/ stepdaughter off, the SRO asked him if he could he could fill in.”
Informed of the school system’s finding, Lisa Morel took the news with distress.
“That’s covering this up,” she said. Sarah Morel and her parents also expressed concern about Officer Rasecke’s comportment once inside the dance. Sarah and Brittany were together for much of the dance, and Sarah said that Officer Rasecke seemed to be paying particularly close attention to her.
“He was standing with his arms crossed, dead staring at us,” Sarah Morel said.
Ridgill responded that no one came to complain to him the night of the incident. Lisa Morel received a letter from Capt. Jane Allen, commander of professional standards, on May 26.
“After careful review, it has been determined that Officer EH Rasecke’s actions were lawful and proper,” she wrote. “There is no evidence to substantiate that Officer Rasecke acted improperly when he entered the Grimsley High School dance at 203 S. Elm St.”
Last week, Lisa Morel filed an appeal of the professional standards determination to the complaint review committee, under the auspices of the Greensboro Human Relations Department.
YES! Weekly’s review of the matter indicates that Officer Rasecke’s presence at the school dance was appropriate, although the circumstances of his comportment inside the dance remain too murky to make a conclusive determination.
Rasecke received a citizen commendation for his involvement in a separate incident earlier this year. The January 2010 issue of the police department newsletter indicates that Chonda Clark called watch operations on Jan. 13 about an accident in which she struck a pedestrian with her vehicle. The item reported that Clark said she had been upset at the time Rasecke arrived on the scene, and that the officer was “very empathetic, compassionate and caring.” Clark reportedly said “she had never had such a positive experience with a police officer.”
Do you believe you have been treated improperly by a Greensboro police officer, or do you have an outstanding complaint filed with the city’s complaint review committee that you would like to tell us about? If so, please call 336.316.1231, and ask for Jordan Green or e-mail jordan@yeswee’kly.com. We encourage you to also file a complaint with the complaint review committee to give the city the best opportunity to uphold its responsibility to its citizens. For more information about the city’s complaint review process, visit www.greensboro-nc.gov/ departments/Relations/complaint/ or call 336.373.2038.