GREENSBORO — It was revealed in court Wednesday that the employee alleged to have improperly touched a minor at a group home for troubled youth — co-owned by Deputy Police Chief James Hinson — has a history of being accused of sex crimes with underage children.
On Monday, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office charged Richard Vernell Heath with one count of statutory sex offense and two counts of indecent liberties with a child, according to court records. Heath, 51, was arrested Tuesday and is facing life in prison without parole.
Those charges stem from allegations made by a 15-year-old, whose name is being withheld, that on May 17 — a Friday — Heath inappropriately touched him in a car. Two days later, the teen said that Heath forced him to perform oral sex at a Greensboro group home while other employees were away.
“As soon as he sat down, (Heath) pulled down his pants and I said, ‘Oh, hell no,’ ” the teen told state investigators.
The incident occurred at Center of Progressive Strides, a home for troubled youth in northeast Greensboro.
Founded in 2006 by Hinson and Kevin Chandler, a former Greensboro police sergeant, both said last week the group home is now closed — but not because of the allegations.
On Wednesday, Heath appeared in Guilford County District Court for a bail hearing. Heath told Judge Bill Davis that he was unemployed, “had pulled himself up by the bootstraps” and enrolled in college where he is studying how to treat adults with substance-abuse problems — a statement that made several in the courtroom smirk.
Prosecutor Kelly Thompson said she wanted Heath’s bail set at no less than $75,000, instead of the $35,000 initially issued by a magistrate.
“His bond is inappropriate and well below guidelines,” Thompson said.
Thompson told Davis, who granted her request, that Heath is a potential flight risk with a history of being accused of sex crimes with minors.
In 2017, a 10-year-old boy at a public library said that a man followed and groped him on the way to the bathroom before masturbating in a corner. That man, Thompson said, is thought to be Heath. Library staff identified him through security footage.
Thompson said the incident left the boy so traumatized, the case couldn’t be prosecuted.
But in light of the latest allegations, Thompson added the case is being revisited.
Thompson’s criticisms of Heath echo a 53-page report released on July 31 by the Division of Health Service Regulation, a state agency. That report graphically details the 15-year-old’s alleged assault and cites the group home for failing to report the incident. It also criticizes Hinson for dismissing the allegations before a forensic interview.
Hinson and Chandler have said the report was biased and they weren’t given a chance to fully respond to the allegations.
The Greensboro Police Officer’s Association has called for Hinson to be placed on administrative duty, which would be consistent with department policy. But that hasn’t happened.
Hinson — who some see as a candidate to replace outgoing Chief Wayne Scott — has faced scrutiny for running the group home almost since the day it opened.
In 2007, Hinson and Chandler were criticized for not telling the department they started it.
Over the years, City Council members and others have raised concerns that Hinson’s job as a top police official could pose a conflict with running the group home should trouble ever arise there.