KDH: Expert panel cleared police administration

By on January 26, 2012

Hoping to settle questions about Chief Gary Britt’s three-month suspension last year, Kill Devil Hills officials waived personnel privacy rules Wednesday night and acknowledged that a state team of experts had investigated the town’s police administration.

Kill Devil Hills called on the risk management division of the North Carolina League of Municipalities for help after the town manager learned in September that a petition from the state District Attorney’s office to remove the chief was “imminent.”

The district attorney never filed the petition, but the town put the chief on non-disciplinary probation while it looked into the matter, KDH officials said in a statement.

While the statement outlined the findings of the investigation, it was not clear what specific allegations had prompted the District Attorney’s involvement.

The panel of law enforcement experts “reviewed all identifiable complaints or issues which were understood to have been contained in the proposed petition,” the statement said.

“Extensive interviews were conducted with Chief Britt as well as each and every employee of the police department, including both sworn officers and administrative staff.”

The panel was made up of Gerald Galloway, retired police chief of Southern Pines; David D. Cashwell, retired director of the Criminal Justice Standards Division of the N.C. Department of Justice; and Thomas M. Moss, retired police chief of Garner. The North Carolina League of Municipalities underwrites insurance policies for cities and towns.

The statement went on to say that “although it appears that some employees had issues with Chief Britt’s management style, there was no evidence identified that indicated anyone was intentionally violating any criminal laws or engaging in any unethical conduct.”

Recommendations were made to improve aspects of his management style, “including improving communication within the police department and clarifying existing policies,” the statement said.

“Based on these findings, and based on Chief Britt’s employment history with the Town, including his capability and willingness to implement and work within the panel’s recommendations and town manager’s direction, Chief Britt was returned to his duties on December 22, 2011.”

Over objections from Commissioners Paul Buske and Bob Woodard, the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday to waive rules protecting the privacy of personnel records in the interest of “maintaining the public confidence in the administration of city services.” The statement was handed out after the meeting.

“Since the initial suspension, and as recently as today (January 25, 2012) numerous media reports have questioned the motives and rationale behind these decisions, and the Town has been contacted by reporters asking why these actions were taken,” Mayor Sheila Davies said in a written request for the exception.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Milton F. Fitch issued an order barring the town from implementing any policy that would prevent police employees from taking complaints outside the town’s administrative chain of command.

The town’s statement said that Fitch had been given inaccurate information, “including the statement that the Town had recently implemented new policies which would limit an employee’s ability to speak out on matters of public concern.”

“At no time has the Town implemented any policy under which anyone is denied the right to speak out on matters of public concern. The Town has filed an appeal with the North Carolina Court of Appeals which addresses this Order, which is a matter of public record.”

Also last week, police officer Andy Ennis filed an affidavit requesting an investigation of whether there is cause to remove or suspend District Attorney Frank Parrish. Ennis contended that Parrish failed to pursue his complaint raising questions about the police chief, including an allegation that his personnel records had been falsified.

“This allegation has been investigated and is simply not true,” the town’s statement said.

See the full statement »

Previous stories:
Judge blocks KDH limits on police complaints »
Filing sheds some light on chief’s suspension »

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