GREENSBORO — Former police Chief David Wray misled city leaders when he covered up the actions of a “secret police” unit that targeted black officers for unfair internal investigation, Greensboro officials said.
Part of the coverup included the hiding of a “black book” that contained photos of at least 19 African American officers, officials said late Tuesday. The book was eventually recovered by investigators probing allegations of misconduct within the Greensboro Police Department.
And a black lieutenant whose claims of racism triggered seven months of controversy in the department returns to work today , his record cleared of unfounded criminal charges.
City Manager Mitchell Johnson disclosed during a news conference partial findings of an internal probe into actions Wray and the Greensboro police Special Intelligence Section took. He did so after an unanimous vote by City Council to make the information public.
Johnson described the “black book” as a police lineup used by Special Intelligence, but he provided few details about its exact use by the five-officer squad.
“The activities of this unit and its continued pursuit of unproven, previously investigated and unsubstantiated charges against certain African American officers created an atmosphere of fear, distrust and suspicion, which undermined the department’s morale and efficiency,” he said.
Johnson also said Wray violated North Carolina’s Personnel Privacy Act and may have inappropriately negotiated with the Greensboro Police Officers Association.
Wray resigned Monday. Efforts to reach him late Tuesday for comment were unsuccessful.
Assistant Chief Tim Bellamy has been named Greensboro’s acting chief.
“If I was a black officer, I would certainly feel targeted,” Johnson said. “Whether it represents systematic racism, or simply very poor decision making ... is yet to be determined.”
Johnson said he has not spoken with Wray since Friday, when the locks to the chief’s office were changed after a meeting between the two men.
The city manager had given Wray the weekend to explain what was in the report — and told the chief he would face administrative leave beginning Monday “unless he was able to present information which would place the totality of the report in doubt.”
“Our discussions have not included an apology for these particular issues,” Johnson said Tuesday in response to questions from the media. “He has expressed regret for what happened under his watch.”
Wray faxed a letter to media from a local FedEx Kinko’s explaining his resignation.
“Certain events during the last several months have created controversy,” Wray said in the letter. “During this period I have at all times acted in what I believed to be the best interest of the department and the community, attempting to find balance between a number of conflicting interests.
“The result, however, is that the city manager and some others have lost confidence and trust in my ability to lead. This is my great regret.”
The investigation, which has cost $70,000 so far, found Wray misled the public and city leaders about Lt. James Hinson when he publicly implied in June that Hinson was part of a drug investigation.
Hinson went public June 10 with accusations that Special Intelligence was targeting him. He had spotted officers from the squad trailing him during his shift the evening of June 3.
Wray hosted a news conference June 17 after placing Hinson on paid leave. During that event, the chief said he was unable to address the allegations sooner because of an ongoing drug investigation “wide-ranging in nature” and with “far-reaching geographic and subject matter implications.”
But Johnson said Tuesday that Wray knew before that news conference Hinson had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in 2003 and administrative wrongdoing in 2004.
Hinson could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. He did not return a message left to his cell phone.
Reactions to Johnson’s disclosures were immediate.
“It’s going to take a little bit of digesting,” said Eddy Summers, president of the 410-officer Greensboro Police Officers Association. “This appears to have only touched upon one allegation that has been rumored around the department.”
Summers said other internal affair investigations had been altered during Wray’s tenure. Johnson acknowledged he has yet to review a second report that details other improprieties; he declined to provide additional details.
Two other high-ranking officers retired without notice the week after Thanksgiving, immediately after their interviews with the consultants assisting city staff with the investigation, Johnson said.
Employee personnel records are generally confidential under state law. But a city manager can release information about an employee’s job status and reasons for change if elected officials concur and it “is essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of city services.”
Greensboro council members said they authorized Johnson to release the information to clear up misinformation and rumors.
Councilwoman Sandy Carmany said she heard a lot of criticism of Johnson’s decisions and how he conducted the investigation, as well as rumors the Wray investigation was to appease officers unhappy with his implementation of rotating shifts.
Mayor Keith Holliday said it was important to release information because of “the loss of trust and faith in the police department and the chief.”
“To have the chief make his own disclosure — it left too many unanswered questions,” he said.
City leaders interviewed after the news conference Tuesday said the findings troubled them. But they added they were pleased with Johnson’s efforts to look into the situation.
Greensboro staff has spent an estimated 1,100 hours on the investigation.
“It was very disturbing, but I am pleased with this administration for not trying to hide it ... but to try to correct it,” Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson said.
Carmany said she was disappointed in the report’s findings, especially given her close ties to the department — her husband retired from it six years ago.
But she said the investigation affirms “nobody is going to be above the law.”
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