GREENSBORO — As his profile had steadily grown over the years, James Hinson was a man some considered a candidate to replace outgoing Police Chief Wayne Scott.
But not anymore.
The city abruptly announced his retirement Thursday in a three-paragraph news release. It was an understated and unceremonious end to what had sometimes been a colorful, and controversial, career.
Over a decade ago, he was at the heart of an alleged racial discrimination scandal that led to the resignation of Chief David Wray. Hinson, meanwhile, moved up the ranks as he weathered one storm after another.
Not mentioned in the news release was that Hinson's job as deputy police chief was in trouble over yet another scandal. In July, the state issued a scathing report about a Greensboro group home he co-owned and allegations from a minor living there he was molested by a staff member.
And that Hinson tried to cover it up.
Weeks passed before news of the report became public.
Then Hinson's world came down around him.
On Tuesday, the accused employee was charged in the incident.
On Wednesday, it was revealed in court the employee has an alleged history of being inappropriate with minors.
On Thursday, Hinson's career took an unexpected detour.
After 28 years, he's leaving the department behind. But not his troubles.
* * *
The 53-page report, released July 31 by the state Division of Health Service Regulation, is, at times, a graphic and disturbing account of the minutes before and hours after a 15-year-old boy’s alleged assault by Richard Vernell Heath, an employee working in the group home — and someone with a history of being accused of sex crimes involving underage children.
Once the boy decided to make a complaint, it set into motion a series of interactions between Hinson, his partner and those involved in the search for the truth. And when the teen wouldn't back down from his story, both men pressure him to recant.
"They kept trying to get me to drop the charges," the teen said in the report.
Hinson co-founded the Center of Progressive Strides in 2006 with Kevin Chandler, a former Greensboro police sergeant. Located on a residential street in northeast Greensboro, it’s largely operated in anonymity except on those occasions when critics have questioned whether it was proper for Hinson as a law enforcement officer to also run a group home.
“We realized there was a need for this particular service and my partner and I have always been instrumental in helping young people in the community,” Hinson told the News & Record. “So we did this.”
According to Chandler, the group home works with at-risk teens having troubles with truancy or trapped in the web of the justice system.
“We try to make a difference to get youth where they need to be,” he said.
Following the Wray controversy came the revelation in 2007 that Hinson, a lieutenant at the time, and Chandler were opening the group home. Both men were criticized for not sharing that with the department.
In 2012, Hinson was a captain leading the police department’s eastern patrol division, where Center of Progressive Strides was located. Some City Council members expressed concern that his role as a top police official wouldn’t be compatible with running a group home should trouble ever arise there.
Now, that trouble has come.
* * *
The alleged assault took place on May 19 and spilled over into the next day as Hinson, Chandler and others were made aware of the boy’s allegations.
At its core, the state report is a gritty retelling of those two days through interviews investigators made with the principals involved — including the alleged attacker — as well as a review of the report Chandler filed following the incident.
From there, two distinct narratives emerge. One is about a troubled minor who claims he was forced to perform oral sex on someone who worked at the group home.
“He started forcing my head down,” the teen told a state investigator.
The other is about a teenager so unhappy about being there, he’s willing to say anything to get out.
“I feel he is using this as a launching pad to get out of the group home,” Hinson said in the report.
Heath, 51, told investigators he never touched the teenager.
He's faced accusations like this before. 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 is thought to be Heath. Police identified him through security footage.
In an interview Thursday, Chandler said he didn't know about the past allegations against Heath until it was revealed Wednesday in court.
"We weren't aware of it," Chandler said. "I'm the one who does the criminal history background check, and that didn't come up."
Hinson, through his interview with state investigators and in numerous conversations with the News & Record, adamantly denied the allegations put forth in the report. However, some of his assertions contradict what he told the state.
Hours after the incident occurred, Hinson arrived at the group home and interviewed the 15-year-old boy and another resident.
On June 11, Hinson recounted his conclusion to state investigators: “I don’t think this incident happened at all and nothing criminally occurred," he said.
But he was less definitive in a series of phone interviews with the News & Record between Aug. 28 and Sept. 3.
"As far as him being a victim or not being a victim," Hinson said in one such interview, "I can't say whether or not the incident occurred or did not occur."
* * *
Little is known about the 15-year-old.
According to the state report, he's a gang member and a victim of sexual abuse. He suffers from a variety of issues, ranging from obsessive-compulsive behavior to attention-deficit disorder.
Since being admitted in April, his time at the group home was filled with defiance and discipline. He has been put on probation for theft and destruction of property, among other infractions.
His mother has filed at least 16 missing-person reports.
Almost from the beginning, the teen had awkward encounters with Heath — instances where he allegedly touched the teen's buttocks "like four times," the report states.
In May, the teen claimed he was again sexually abused by Heath while they were in a car. Heath was driving with the teen in the passenger seat. Another housemate sat in the back.
"He grabbed my penis inside my pants one time," the teen told an investigator. "I hit his hand and turned around to (my housemate) and said, 'Did you see that?'"
* * *
Two days later — a Sunday — the teen said he was assaulted at the group home, according to what he told investigators. He met with them on July 29 to discuss the alleged incident, sparing no detail.
It was around 9 p.m. He was in the den playing a video game.
Another staff member had left early. Heath was the lone adult in the home.
He entered the room and rubbed up against the teen.
The teen smacked Heath's hand and told him to "stop playing with me."
"You know you like it,'" the boy recalled Heath saying.
The teen sat on the couch. Heath propositioned him. Then he went further.
"He came up to me and dropped his pants, and I scooted to the end of the couch," the teen described in the report.
At that point, another housemate — the one who was in the car — had been outside, and Heath went to check on him.
"I locked the door," the teen said.
But that didn't stop Heath. He had a key.
"As soon as he sat down, (Heath) pulled down his pants and I said, 'Oh, hell no.'"
Again, Heath propositioned the teen. Again, he was denied.
"He started forcing my head down," the teen recalled. “I pulled my head back ... I said, ‘Bro, what are you doing?’”
The teen began to cry.
"I never thought I would be in (this) predicament. I have my hands pushing and (trying) to get up and I can't. He was holding the back of my neck.
"I was shaking."
* * *
Sometime after — the report doesn't specify when — the teen sent a text to an uncle, which was obtained by the state. It read:
Listen I know how I roll, but I can't do this place no more because one of the male staff forced me to suck his ---- while one of the boys was in their room and one was outside — and this was tonight.
At 12:04 a.m., the teen called his mother.
At 12:27 a.m., a staff member from the group home called Hinson to tell him that "the mother is going to call the police about our group home."
Hinson called the mother and told her "I am on the way."
After he arrived, Hinson questioned the teen. According to the report, Hinson didn't believe him because there was a "major discrepancy" between the accounts offered by the teen and his mother.
"Your mother said tried and you said he did it," Hinson said he told the boy. "(The teen) then had a long pause. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts. Then he said, 'No, no, he made me do it.'"
By 3 a.m., Chandler woke up to several text messages from Hinson and other staff.
After talking to the teen, Hinson and Chandler were skeptical the incident occurred. Those suspicions were reaffirmed during separate interviews with the housemate who been outside during the assault.
Chandler said the housemate told him: “I will be honest: We talked about setting up (Heath) and getting him in trouble so (my friend) can go home and get out of the group home.”
When Hinson talked to the housemate, he was told something similar. That left him to conclude: “I don’t think this incident happened at all and nothing criminally occurred."
With Chandler on the scene, Hinson decided to leave.
"I removed myself from the middle of this entire conversation," Hinson explained in one of his interviews with the News & Record. "I know my role at the police department, and I didn't want the two to mesh."
* * *
The state's investigation into the assault complaint revealed that Hinson, Chandler and their staff failed to notify authorities about the incident.
When a social worker from Child Protective Services arrived unannounced about 8 p.m. — because of an anonymous tip — almost a full day had elapsed since the alleged assault occurred.
It was only then that the agency became aware of the incident.
"Once Child Protective Services came in, (the social worker) said they would make all the notifications," a group home staffer recalled in the report.
That made the group home "in compliance," Hinson told the News & Record, and would appear to fall just within the 24-hour notification period required by state law.
However, in an interview Chandler gave to state investigators on June 6, he admitted they hadn't intended to notify authorities at that time.
"We were going to call them the next day after we got all of our statements together," he said.
* * *
A troubling — and volatile — aspect of the report is that Hinson and Chandler tried unsuccessfully to get the teen to drop his story.
And they wouldn't give up.
The teen ran away "because they kept trying to get me to drop the charges."
He knew Hinson was a police chief, the report notes.
"We were on the cement in front of the porch (at the group home)," the teen recalled in the report. "(Hinson and Chandler) both said, '(The police) don't believe you downtown, so you might as well drop it.' I said to (Chandler) and (Hinson), '(Heath) did it, and I'm not going to drop it.'"
It was just after midnight on May 20 — a Monday — when the teen called his mother.
"He told me that I needed to get up there because one of the staff was trying to make him suck his penis," she said.
The mother called the group home.
"I told (a staff member) I was about to call the police and she said, 'Let me call (Hinson) first,'" she remembered. "(Hinson) called me back, and I told him I was about to call the police to your group home. (Hinson) said, 'You can call the police, but please don't because I'm headed right over there.'"
From roughly 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., the teen and his mother met with Chandler and another staff member to discuss the incident. Afterward, she was handed a statement to sign.
A passage included in the report reads, in part, that the teen's mother "does not believe the allegations are true" and that "she did not want to call the police as she feels that the management team ... is adequate to handle the situation."
However, the mother told investigators that's not what happened.
"I signed a statement saying it needed to be investigated," she said. "I told them the Department of Social Services needed to be called."
* * *
The teen and his mother are now living in another county. Kelly Thompson, a prosecutor in the Guilford County District Attorney's Office, said they've agreed to testify against Heath in an upcoming trial.
The housemate is living in another state.
Heath remains in the Guilford County jail under a $75,000 bail and is awaiting trial. His next court date is Oct. 1.
In their interviews with the News & Record, Hinson and Chandler have contended that the report was biased and they weren’t given a chance to fully respond to the allegations.
"Read the report," Hinson said. “There are many lies, many untruths in that report."
After 13 years, their group home is closed — but Hinson and Chandler say it's not because of the scandal. Chandler said he wanted to focus on his retirement.
Starting Friday, Hinson will be joining him.