Bralley: Almost 40 years with town

Published 9:50 am Thursday, May 19, 2016

By Lynn Hall

Enterprise Record

Christine Bralley has spent almost 40 years as an employee of the Town of Mocksville. She worked her way from an internship in 1977 while still in high school to the town’s top job as manager in 2002.

It was her ultimate position of authority over the hiring and firing of town employees that entangled her in a crisis of leadership that will now cost the town in excess of $4 million.

One of the defendants in the wrongful termination of three police officers, Bralley was ordered to pay each of the plaintiffs in the case punitive damages of $10,000.

Her personal liability of $30,000 is small change compared to the millions of dollars to be paid by the town government.  Her co-defendant, Robert Cook, was also to pay punitive damages in the same amount.

Bralley and Cook were in federal court accused of violating the free speech rights of the officers under the 1st Amendment. The Town of Mocksville was sued under state law for the same infringement. The charges were tied to the officers making an anonymous call to the governor’s office in December 2011 in regard to concerns of corruption within the Mocksville Police Department. The officers were hoping to instigate an investigation by an outside agency.

Bralley was the first witness for the defense on Monday, May 9, and testified that she did not know of the phone call or of any allegations of corruption under Cook’s leadership of the police department. Therefore, without that knowledge, the terminations had nothing to do with free speech and were only the result of performance issues.

The town manager, along with Cook, testified to a long list of reasons why Ken Hunter, Jerry Medlin and Rick Donathan had been fired on Dec. 29, and repeatedly denied knowledge of a phone call and corruption allegations.

Bralley did admit that she had received a letter from Medlin in 2009 with concerns of mismanagement and Cook’s issues with alcohol. She also testified to conversations with Hunter and Donathan in regard to the department. She disagreed with their testimonies that nothing had been done, and instead, said she had investigated. In the case of most of their allegations, she said she had found no evidence to substantiate the claims.

As to allegations that Cook had been seen drinking and even intoxicated while on duty and in uniform, Bralley’s attorney Patrick Flanagan asked if she had ever witnessed Cook drinking on the job or heard of any complaints that Cook had an issue with alcohol.

The town manager responded no.

She later confirmed under questioning by plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Elliot that she had been contacted by a former police chief who reported seeing Cook drinking while wearing his weapon.

After the letter in 2009, Medlin found himself demoted by Cook from detective to patrol. Bralley told the court that she had discussed the letter with several town board members and with Cook. She said it was her operating procedure to talk with supervisors, but not to include the name of the person making the complaint.

However, she did say that she knew Medlin had been demoted.

“I don’t remember a call from Cook. I believe I heard it from Jerry,” Bralley testified. She said she reinstated the detective and did not think the demotion had ever gone through so there were no consequences.

“Were you aware that Detective Medlin had purchased a patrol uniform?” Elliot asked.  She admitted that she did know that, but some officers have additional uniforms.

Elliot pointed out her habit of keeping notebooks with records of her activities. He showed her an entry dated August 2009. “Don’t you indicate here that Medlin was reinstated with a 60-day probation?”

“Yes, I remember that now,” Bralley replied. “Chief Cook put him on probation.”

It was the plaintiffs’ contention that there had been some retaliation for Medlin’s writing the letter.

Bralley testified to knowing there had been serious allegations of misconduct and even criminal activity against four other officers and that those four had been allowed to resign. She acknowledged that she was aware that Cook had never terminated an officer for any reason until he fired Hunter, Medlin and Donathan.”

“So the other officers were allowed to resign,” Elliot noted.

“They resigned,” she replied.

The town manager was asked about Cook’s management style and the fact that he did not do written evaluations or document any disciplinary actions.

“Chief Cook liked to talk to people one-on-one instead of writing things down,” Bralley said.

“Did you understand that written documentation provides an employee with a record of areas where they need improvement and also that if disciplinary action is taken, there is evidence in their personnel file to support that?”

“Yes, but it’s my feeling that it helps morale if things are not put in their files.”

When Cook announced to her he was restructuring the department in November 2011 and Hunter was stripped of all supervisory duties, Bralley said he did come to speak with her requesting that his responsibilities be restored.  He next filed a grievance on Dec. 13.

The defense attorney asked Bralley about Hunter’s issues, and she said it was about Hunter wanting his duties back. It was in the grievance filed on Dec. 13, the day before the call to the governor’s office, that included statements about serious department misconduct and even racial slurs.

The town manager said she told Hunter the town did not have a grievance policy, but that she did discuss the issues with Hunter and Cook.  She testified that when asked directly if he was making claims about criminal activity or racial discrimination, his response was no.

“But weren’t those issues listed throughout Hunter’s memo?” Elliot asked. “Did you even read it?”

She stated that she had.

Defense attorney Flanagan asked Bralley about hearing from other officers that they did not want to work under Hunter, and that some stated they would rather be fired than be under his supervision. One of those was Det. Stuart Shore.  He alleged that he was being harassed by Medlin and Hunter, because they felt was not being a good team player. He was supposed to be loyal to Hunter rather than Chief Cook and that Hunter had even asked if he was “secret sergeant” for Cook.

Shore told Cook and Bralley that the officers had threatened that they would plant drugs on him.

“Did you ever go to Hunter and get his side of the story?” Elliot asked Bralley. She stated that she had not.

“So you just accepted it without checking it with his supervisor officer?”

Bralley stated she had not spoken with Hunter about the matter.

While Bralley repeated a number of times that she did not know about a call to the governor’s office, Elliot asked if she had received an anonymous in December asking if Cook had been stopped by a Davie County deputy for DWI but had not been arrested.

She stated the call came late in the day and she had gone home and called Chief Cook. “He said if it happened there would be evidence.” She then called Davie County Sheriff Andy Stokes who informed her he could find no evidence of a stop.

Elliot referred her to her deposition testimony taken after the terminations and she was provided a copy of the transcript. He asked if she had testified to an anonymous call about Cook and a DWI, as well as a call to the governor’s office about misconduct.

“That was a separate incident,” Bralley stated. “That call came in November around the holidays. I remember it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.”

“Could it have been around Christmas instead?”

Bralley insisted that it was in November.

She also was asked about telephone calls to Sprint in regard to detail about the Mocksville Police Department cell phone records on Dec. 27. She said the phone records were missing detail for some of the phones and that they needed all of the detail to compare phone use from month to month, something done on a regular basis. She denied it was an attempt to find links between the disposable phone used to call the governor.

The call to the governor was made Dec. 14, the Davie County based SBI agent visited the Mocksville police department on Dec. 22, the calls to Sprint were made on Dec. 27 and the officers were all terminated on Dec. 29.

Bralley stated she did not know about the phone call, never had the number of the disposal cell phone and had not spoken with the SBI agent about the matter prior to the terminations.