Hunter outlines chief’s problems
Published 8:52 am Thursday, May 12, 2016
By Lynn Hall
Ken Hunter was the second of the three Mocksville Police officers terminated in 2011 to take the stand last week in federal court to explain what he believed was department mismanagement on the part of former Police Chief Robert Cook.
Hunter, Det. Jerry Medlin and Lt. Rick Donathan, had agreed that efforts to have matters of concern investigated at the local level had failed, and they had no choice but the seek outside help.
Hunter joined the Mocksville Police Department shortly after completing his stint in the Army in 1979. He attended Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET), sponsored by the Davie County Sheriff’s Department, and when he became certified, worked as a reserve office for five years. In 1985 he was hired by the Mocksville Police Department as a patrol officer and in 1996 he was promoted to detective and then a detective sergeant in 2000. In 2005 he was promoted to captain in charge of investigations. In 2008, he was told by Cook that he was being promoted to major and would be one of two assistant chiefs.
“I was told Daniel (Matthews) would be over patrol and I would be over investigations, the motor vehicle fleet and taser training,” Hunter stated.
He testified that he believed in strong leadership, called himself a disciplinarian and believed officers should be held accountable for their actions. “I guess it goes back to my military experience. There has to be leadership.”
Hunter joined the Army Reserve following active duty and continued as a reservist for the next 17 years.
Hunter said he never spoke to Cook about his alleged drinking. “I had heard there were issues before he became chief,” he said, but admitted he had never spoken to the Cook about it. He said there were times the chief seemed intoxicated at work, and he did see him consume what he believed was alcohol during a motorcycle rally.
As to Cook’s management style, Hunter said the chief did not discipline officers and referred to examples that included an officer who had backed into a civilian car in the department parking lot while under the influence of alcohol and on duty, and then left the scene.
“He was called back in but the chief just had him taken home,” Hunter said. He said another time this same officer, also reported to be intoxicated on duty, had pulled his weapon outside of the department and was waving it around and pointing it at people on the street. He said Cook had Matthews drive the officer home.
“Daniel called me on his way back to the station and told me the chief had him take the officer home. He asked me what he should have done. I told him I would have taken him to the hospital for a blood test first and then told him not to come back until the test results were in,” Hunter said.
In 2009 Hunter said Town Manager Christine Bralley called him to her office. “I wasn’t comfortable going to see her, but I did. She had a list of things that had been reported to her and she wanted me to verify what I knew to be true.”
Hunter said the incident with the officer, mentioned above, was the first thing on her list. “Next was about one of the patrol officers breaking into an FBI car.”
He said several patrolmen had seen a car parked at one of the schools for extended periods. “They could see it was a Crown Victoria and had lights and antenna,” Hunter stated, “but this officer opened the locked doors, checked the glove compartment and found it belonged to an FBI agent. That was breaking and entering into a motor vehicle.”
He said there had been other incidents involving this same officer and no action was ever taken.
In another example, Hunter told the court that a town crew found a power jack and brought it to the station so that the owner could reclaim it. It was placed in the supply closet. At some point the jack was missing and Cook assigned Hunter to investigate.
“I questioned every officer and narrowed it to three people based on their work hours,” Hunter said. When unable to arrange for polygraph tests, he did voice stress tests. He provided Cook with his results
“The chief asked me what I wanted to do about it, fire everyone? I told him no, but at least there ought to be written reprimands,” Hunter said. “And he did do that.”
The officer who had taken the tool was allowed to resign.
Hunter was questioned by Attorney Elliot about his concerns regarding Cook’s drinking on the job. The former assistant chief told the court that it was his opinion that Cook had been drinking a beer in the parking lot of a Mocksville hotel during a motorcycle rally. He said he had been close enough to hear the chief offered peach brandy by a man in a wheelchair.
“When the lid was off he smelled it and made a sound of approval.” Hunter said the man poured the contents into a cup and gave it to the chief.
Hunter also said the chief’s drinking was a frequent subject of conversation by residents in Mocksville.
Hunter testified that on one occasion he opened the freezer compartment on the refrigerator in the station break room and saw a brown paper bag. He could see the cap, and checking, discovered it was liquor. He said he asked the administrative assistant, Donna Lawrence, if she knew whose it was and she identified it as belonging to the chief.
After meeting Bralley and seeing no results, Hunter said morale continued to decline within the department. He said prior to Cook taking over as chief, the department had run smoothly. He had worked under a total of five police chiefs, including Cook.
Hunter was asked if he knew about a letter that Medlin wrote to the town manager expressing his concerns about the department. Hunter replied that he did. He was Medlin’s supervisor at the time and he did not know that Cook planned to demote Medlin.
“Did Cook approach you about Medlin’s performance before he was demoted?” Elliot asked.
“No, but afterwards he told me Medlin’s attitude had changed and he wasn’t the officer that Cook thought he was.”
“Did you agree with that?” Elliot asked. “No, Medlin had the highest case clearance record.”
In November of 2011, Hunter was asked about a reorganization of the police department. He testified that when he arrived at work he discovered he had been relieved of all supervisory duties and would now only be over the motor vehicle fleet. Instead of assigning cases to be investigated, that duty would now go to Detective Turrentine.
Hunter filed a grievance with the town manager, at which time he said she seemed offended by his allegations. “She asked me if I thought anything rose to the level of a criminal offense and I said in my opinion, yes. I asked her the same question and she said no. I knew it wasn’t going anywhere then and so I went back to work.”
Hunter told the court it was at this point he spoke with four other officers and their concerns, and then later the decision was reached by the three officers to seek an outside investigation.
In the cross examination by defense attorney Philip Van Hoy, Hunter was asked if it were true that most people in law enforcement retire early due to the stress of the job, and Hunter said he had no knowledge of that.
Van Hoy said that according to the officers, the misconducted has been going on for years, but Hunter only went to the governor’s office after he was demoted.
“That was definitely the boiling point,” Hunter agreed.
“Where there ever any findings of corruption?” Van Hoy asked.
“There was never an investigation,” Hunter replied.
“Is Agent (D.J.) Smith with the SBI and isn’t that who you wanted to investigate?”
“Smith was close to the chief,” Hunter said.
“You mean they were friends?” the defense attorney asked. “Is it your contention that Smith’s friendship with Cook interfered with his doing his job?”
“I just contend that Smith did no investigation.”
Van Hoy asked Hunter if he ever called Smith back after the agent called the Tracfone, and if he did not, how did he expect there to be an investigation. Hunter said there could be an investigation without knowing who made the complaint.