Officers air grievances with administration

By on February 2, 2012

Despite efforts by the town to put the matter to rest, the three-month suspension last year of the Kill Devil Hills police chief has generated more insight into conflicts between officers and the department’s administration.

Attorney Dennis Rose of Rose, Harrison & Gilreath represents four clients who have filed complaints against Chief Gary Britt. Two currently work for the police department and two are former employees.

On Friday, Rose released copies of the complaints to the media and they have since been filed with the North Carolina Court of Appeals as part of another legal action.

Rose told the Voice he released the documents to “tell his clients’ side of the story” after Kill Devil Hills issued a statement Jan. 25 acknowledging an internal investigation of the police administration.

The town’s statement said that other than problems with management style, the investigation by a team of experts from the North Carolina League of Municipalities found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing. The town said it undertook the investigation after learning that a petition from the District Attorney to remove Britt was imminent.

“Finally, recent public statements attributed to KDH Police Officer Andy Ennis indicate an apparent belief that his personnel records have been falsified,” the town’s statement said. ” This allegation has been investigated and is simply not true.”

Ennis is a client of Rose’s and filed his allegation in an affidavit through attorney Kathryn Fagan. Ennis’ affidavit asks for an investigation into suspending or removing District Attorney Frank Parrish. He contends that Parrish ignored his complaints about the police administration.

The complaints by Rose’s clients primarily focus on personnel issues, although one alleges the department gave an employee citation goals, which the complainant says are the equivalent of “quotas.” Quotas are prohibited by North Carolina statute.

Another complaint appears to have been the impetus of a recent court order by Superior Court Judge Milton Fitch Jr. concerning the rights of employees to pursue grievances outside of the town’s internal chain-of-command.

The issue surrounding the complaints is whether employee civil rights are being violated by the town and if the complaints influenced Fitch to issue his order that allows police department employees to bypass town policy and report grievances to the resident Superior Court judge.

One complainant, officer Joseph Knight, describes a scenario in which he was given additional responsibilities as a temporary officer in charge. He says he believed the town’s “interim assignment” policies qualified him for extra pay.

In the complaint, Knight says he wrote a memo delivered through the police department chain-of-command asking for a request for a pay increase and was informed by his superiors that Chief Gary Britt had denied it.

According to the document, Knight then visited the town’s human resources division and was referred to Assistant Town Manager Shawn Murphy. The two apparently met informally in a “copy” room, where the officer states Murphy, who heads the human resources division, appeared amenable to the salary increase.

From that point, according to the complaint, Knight had conversations with his superiors in which he revealed his conversation with Murphy. They told him, according to his complaint, that the chief was “upset” Knight had discussed the matter with Murphy.

Knight alleges he received a written reprimand for meeting with Murphy. A copy of the reprimand says “his meeting with Murphy is a violation of department policy.”

Knight proceeded to file a formal grievance, which he expected to result in a meeting with the town manager. Instead, he asserts, he was required to meet with the police chief. Knight protested because the chief was the object of his complaint. But he says in the document that he eventually met with the chief, who agreed to “shred the complaint” and remove it from the file in return for resolving the grievance.

Knight also says that his superiors brought up other possible disciplinary actions they could take, including “disobeying a direct order” and that the chief asserted the town administration was “guaranteed” to side with him (the Chief).

A second complaint raises a question of what one officer described as quotas. In this document, Officer David Shane Allen received a “Performance Improvement Plan.” In human resources jargon “a performance improvement plan is a formal process used by supervisors to help employees improve performance or modify behavior” as defined by the University of Texas.

The officer’s plan states the following as “Essential Goals” and defines his measurement under the “PIP” as:
Incident Reports Filed: Five
DWI Charges: One
Criminal Process: Five
Citations: Ten
Civil Ordinance Violations: Five
Written Warnings: Ten

Contacted by the Voice, Britt said he could not comment on the nature of the complaints because they were personnel issues. Asked about quotas, he responded: “Kill Devil Hills has never and will never have a quota system.”

Rose has filed the complaints as part of a challenge to the town’s appeal of Fitch’s order, which says Kill Devil Hills cannot implement a policy that prohibits police employees from taking grievances to outside agencies.

The Voice is also in possession of several other documents, including Kill Devil Hills’ appeal to Fitch’s order, which was provided by the town’s attorney in the case.

See the documents:
Statement by Joseph Knight »
Joseph Knight PIP »
Statement by David Shane Allen »
David Shane Allen PIP »

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

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