Racist post; lawsuit target Mocksville police

Published 9:30 am Thursday, July 23, 2020

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It was a tough time for the Mocksville Police Department last week, as one employee was put on leave for an alleged racist Facebook post and the chief and others were targets of a lawsuit from a fired employee.

The employee put on leave apparently shared a Facebook post depicting George Floyd (the Minnesota man who died when a police officer held a knee to his neck) holding a gun to a woman’s abdomen. Although misspelled, the employee posted that he raped her.

The Facebook post was taken down, and the employee put on leave during an internal investigation. It led to the following post from the police department:

“The Mocksville Police Department was recently made aware of a social media post involving one of our employees. In reviewing the post and messages associated with it, we realize that the employee is sharing information that does not reflect the beliefs or culture of our agency. We do not condone or agree with this employee’s social media statements.

“The Mocksville Police Department is dedicated to serving its citizens with transparency and equality. The role of law enforcement must always be fair, just and unbiased. These social media exchanges by the employee do not reflect the beliefs of the Mocksville Police Department or the Town of Mocksville. We can not and will not tolerate any language, behavior, or associations that would allow for a disrpution in our agency’s moral code.

“We thank the citizens of Mocksville for bringing this siuation to our attention. We assure you that this behavior will be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. As always, the Mocksville Police Departmnent will continue to be a reflection of its citizens and always be available to hear your concerns.”

Lawsuit Filed

Brian Hill, an officer fired in February, filed a lawsuit in federal court last week saying the town, Town Manager Matt Settlemyer and Police Chief Pat Reagan violated his First Amendment rights.

Filed by attorney Wilson Fong of Greensboro, the lawsuit claims that Hill was acting as a citizen speaking on matters of public concern when he tried to talk to Settlemyer about “corruption and mismanagement” in the department. “Hill’s interest in speaking out about corruption and mismanagement outweights MPD’s governmental interest in providing effective service to the public. Hill’s protected speech was a substantial factor in defendant’s decision to terminate him,” the lawsuit read.

Hill began working for the department in 2015, applied for and got a grant for a K-9 officer, and was named officer of the year in 2018.

In early 2019, Capt. Jeff Finney and Officer Keith Hurley began complaining to town board members about perceived corruption and mismanagement The lawsuit said that Hill told his concerns to those officers, and later to town board members Brent Ward, Amy Vaughn-Jones and Eric Southern.

“Hill, Finney and Hurley also complained to Settlemyer, but he was not receptive to their complaints,” it read.

The lawsuit claims that Reagan frequently lied to officers, the public and elected officials, made poor administrative decisions, that he allowed and instructed Major Koula Black to cause discord between employees, that public safety was jeopardized because too many officers were in the office during the day instead of being on patrol, and that Black was putting money in inmate accounts and giving prisoners access to cell phones in exchange for information.

He also claims that Reagan and Black harassed the three officers for filing complaints. Finney and Hurley left Mocksville for lower-paying jobs with other agencies, it said.

In response to those complaints, the town board commissioned an independent study which made Reagan and his staff “very unhappy” and retaliation began against Finney and Hill. It claims the police department put false information in Finney’s file “to hinder his future employment prospects.”

Hill said he continued to complain, and the retaliation got worse. Ward, Vaughn-Jones and Southern took their concerns to Settlemyer, who backed Reagan and threatened Hill not to speak to board members.

Then, Hill began recording his conversations with command staff. Two months later, without notice, he said the K-9 officer was taken away, and the command staff lied about why and where the dog was, according to the lawsuit.

A month later, Hill was suspended by his supervisor “for allegedly yelling at him and calling him an expletive.” The supervisor had three witness statements, but Hill’s lawsuit claims the conversation was recorded and there was no yelling or expletives.

He challenged that suspension by appealing to Settlemyer. “He refused to listen to him or his recording and took Leonard at his word.” The lawsuit says that Settlemyer told Hill “It won’t end well” if he spoke with board members.

The Police Benevolent Association provided Hill with an attorney to challenge the suspension. The lawsuit claims the police department provided the attorney Hill’s employee file that was different than the one Hill had seen. “The new version included hundreds of pages of false statements and complaints describing events that never happened, none of which Hill had ever been told about.”

When Hill went back to work, he said Reagan asked if he had taken any recordings. When he told him he had, Reagan put him on administrative leave and told to meet with Settlemyer a few days later. He was fired at that meeting.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial, Hill’s reinstatement as an officer with the department, and damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”