Donathan: Reason for termination not given

Published 8:51 am Thursday, May 12, 2016

By Lynn Hall

Enterprise Record

Rick Donathan said he always wanted to be a police officer. When he finished high school he was too young and so he did odd jobs until he turned 21 and then headed to Basic Law Enforcement Training.

When he became certified, he put a great deal of effort into getting a job, but was considered too young as departments were looking for officers with experience.

But a chance visit to the police department in Mocksville gave him an opportunity to fill out an interest card. The next thing he knew he received a call from then police chief, Richard Sink.

“I interviewed and was hired as a patrol officer,” Donathan said. “I loved my job. I like getting to know people and I think I was good at the job.”

Donathan was twice selected as Officer of the Year and in 2007 was presented with a Silver Star Award in recognition of actions in rescuing residents from a fire at an assisted living facility. He was inducted into the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum as a result.

In 2007 Cook promoted the officer to a patrol sergeant, and he was given a leadership role. “I had always gotten good feedback from Chief Cook and Ken Hunter,” he said.

Asked about Hunter’s management style he replied,  “He was a good leader, not afraid to tell you if you needed to improve or to complement you.”

He was asked if he’d ever been disciplined by Hunter and Donathan said he had.

“Part of my job was to keep track and make sure all vehicles had the proper equipment. One week I was busy and we were short-handed. I had to do patrol and I did not get to the inspections,” he said. “Hunter asked me about them and I told him I had not gotten them done. He wrote me up.”

He also testified that he had been reprimanded by Cook once at the direction of Hunter.

“We had a supply closet that was kept locked at night mostly for the cleaning crew.” Donathan said Major Daniel Matthews showed the officers how to get in the closet without the key and that’s how they got office supplies when it was locked.

During the investigation of the missing tool, Donathan said he admitted getting inside to get ink for the printer in his vehicle. He had earlier been asked about claims by Chief Cook that he (Donathan) was always late with this daily log sheets. Donathan said at the time the  department did not carry the ink he needed and he would have to wait until it was ordered.  He said he could not print out his logs until he had ink, but always saved the files until he could print them.

On this occasion, he said he along with several other officers received written reprimands from the chief. Donathan said when he later apologized to Cook, the chief told him not to worry about it. “He said the only reason it was done was CYA (referring to the expression “cover your ass).”

In the fall of 2011, Donathan testified that Cook call him to his home and said he had something he need to talk to him about. He was informed that he was being promoted to lieutenant.

“I asked him if others were as well,” Donathan stated. “He said the sergeants were now going to be lieutenants because it sounded better when people called. He told me I was doing a good job and he wished he had 10 other officers like me. He also said he was going to be creating a captain’s position and he would like to see me get that job.”

At that point, Donathan said Cook asked him to sit down at the table and then said he (Donathan) needed to learn about police and politics.  “He said if a politician invited you to a pancake breakfast, it wasn’t about the pancakes. It was about something else.”

Donathan testified that he felt there was a group within the department considered the “good ole boys” and this had been Cook’s way to invite him into that group.

He was asked by the defense if he had heard Chief Cook testify that he called Donathan to his office that night in order to talk to him in an effort to get him back on the right track.  Donathan denied there was any such discussion.

Donathan was also asked about allegations that he found drugs in a vehicle belonging to someone the department had been trying to catch and did not seize the drugs or make an arrest. He replied that he had never told Matthews about finding drugs.

All three termination letters were handed out the same day, and Donathan said when he was escorted into Cook’s office, the chief tossed a piece of paper at him and then turned away.

“I asked why I was being fired and when had I been insubordinate,” Donathan told the court. “Cook said, ‘I don’t got to tell you nothing.”

He said he never received an explanation.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Patrick Flanagan, of the Charlotte law firm of Cranfill, Sumner and Hartzog, Donathan was asked about a job he took with the Burlington Police Department eight months after his termination. Donthan was hired as an entry level patrol officer. Flanagan asked if he moved to Burlington and if his wife had also gotten a job there. He stated that was true.

Flanagan asked why if he had a full-time job with benefits that was in the field he wanted to work, why had he left that position after less than a year.

Donathan stated that it was his intent to move to Burlington, but they had not been able to sell their house in Mocksville. He was paying rent in Burlingon and making a mortgage payment in Mocksville and he could not afford to do that.

He was also asked about going through the application process with a Statesville department but not completing the process.

“Wasn’t the reason you didn’t complete the application process because you did not want to share a vehicle with another officer?”

Donathan agreed that was part of it.