N.C. Police Chief Resigns After Racial Scandal
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You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. The city of Greensboro, North Carolina and its police department have been dealing with allegations of racism and discrimination. The police chief recently resigned amid charges that a special unit secretly investigated black officers. The FBI is now reviewing the matter. From North Carolina Public Radio Rusty Jacobs reports.
Mr. RUSTY JACOBS (Reporter, WUNC): The scandal first came to light in June. A black lieutenant named James Hinson discovered he was being followed and tracked electronically by the police department's Special Intelligence Section. Hinson went public charging he was being unfairly targeted because he was black. Around the time city manager Mitchell Johnson says his office began receiving complaints for other police officers of all races, ranks and genders about a so-called black book that contained photos of African American officers.
MITCHELL JOHNSON (City Manager): I can tell you if I was one of the black officers that was in this book that has now become rather well known, this black book, I would be uncomfortable because I don't know that I feel like that's a trusted relationship.
JACOBS: Rumor had it that crime suspects were sometimes promised more lenient treatment if they could identify black officers in the book for misconduct. In September, Mitchell Johnson and the city hired a firm to investigate these claims and other suspected problems with police chief's David Wray's administration.
Mr. JOHNSON: There's absolutely no evidence that this grew out of a systemic racist issue in the department. And I hope to God we don't find any evidence of that. But clearly, poor decisions were made and those decisions led to an appearance without a doubt that some of these actions may have been racially motivated.
JACOBS: After the investigation ruled that Wray seemed to cover up the existence of the black book and a memo from Internal Affairs that seemed to clear Hinson the police chief resigned under pressure. A few days after resigning, Wray defended his actions at a press conference. Wray suggested that people may have mistaken a legitimate photo array book for the purported black book.
DAVID WRAY (Former Police Chief): The photo array contained a total of 114 photos of black males. 19 of the photos were DMV photos of officers, 95 photos were photos of black males not employed by the Greensboro Police Department.
JACOBS: Wray said the photo book was used after a police informant claimed she was groped and sexually assaulted by a black police officer during a strip search.
Mr. Wray: The photo array book was shown to the female confidential informant in February of 2005. The female confidential informant was not able to make a positive identification from this array.
JACOBS: Wray didn't take questions at the press conference and is currently recovering from pneumonia. The former police chief couldn't be reached for comment and his attorney declined to arrange an interview. Lieutenant Hinson recently returned to the force from administrative leave and also declined an interview request. Out of the 700 or so officers on the city's police force, 102 are black. The acting police chief Timothy Bellamy is a 23-year veteran of the force. He is also African American.
TIMOTHY BELLAMY (Acting Police Chief, Greensboro): Knowing that this unit may have, did some things inappropriate it was very discouraging and disgusting to be a police officer. Either race doesn't matter, but just being a police officer is disturbing.
JACOBS: After taking over as chief one of Bellamy's first moves was to temporarily disband the Special Intelligence Section and reassign the officers. City manager Mitchell Johnson believes that swift and deceive action by the city may have prevented a setback for Greensboro race relations.
Mr. JOHNSON: It was the police department, the individuals, men and women in that department itself who went outside of the thin blue line as they call it, and said this needs to be fixed. Somebody needs to look into this.
JACOBS: While the FBI conducts its probe, Mitchell Johnson says the city will continue its own effort to uncover any abuses of power in Greensboro's Police Department. For NPR News I'm Rusty Jacobs.
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