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Bill Kirby Jr.: Police chief was right about us

When Gina Hawkins told us after taking her oath that ‘Fayetteville will have a lot of people watching’ the Fayetteville Police Department and her performance she wasn’t wrong.

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Call Gina Hawkins prophetic.

She was a bit emotional on that Aug. 18, 2017, evening after taking her oath from Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Claire Hill as the city police chief, and where Hawkins was so proud to have her 98-year-old grandmother as part of the audience at Seabrook Auditorium on the Fayetteville State University campus. 

My excitement is the city of Fayetteville will have a lot of people watching,” Hawkins said. “And we will deliver.” 

You, chief, were right.  

We are watching, and have been since that May 30, 2020, night when rioters set fire to the Market House and damaged property after peaceful protests related to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

You and your police officers, like others, stood back and watched. You surely were proactive later in the evening, dispatching officers to quell looters at Cross Creek Mall, but as for downtown and the Market House, the damage had been done. 

And about these homicides in our town – 50 in 2021, and two more already in 2022. None of us can expect our police chief or the Police Department to be everywhere or predict where the next homicide might occur. Still, we’re a little on edge as a community, chief, to say the least.

Protesters were back at your Police Department headquarters Sunday and wanted to know why you have not issued an arrest warrant for an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputy who shot and killed a 37-year-old man Saturday afternoon along Bingham Drive.

“We’ve been asking our officials to step down if not true to their oath,” Kathy Greggs, co-founder and president of the Fayetteville Police Accountability Taskforce, was saying Sunday as about 100 protesters converged on the Police Department to protest the death of Jason Walker. 

About 30 of those protesters were back Monday at the Fayetteville City Council meeting at the FAST Transit Center, and again they were not taking much mercy on you as our police chief.

“You withheld the name of a murderer,” Myah Warren, 23, told Hawkins, during the council’s public forum. “You failed your community and you’ve got to go.”  

‘Evidence will be presented’ 

And it doesn’t stop there for this city’s top cop.

On Tuesday, Hawkins found herself facing a city Ethics Commission on eight of 14 allegations of misconduct filed by Wake County lawyer Mikael Gross, who also has filed a lawsuit on behalf of  Lt. Michael Petti, who was demoted from his rank of assistant chief. 

Members of the Ethics Commission are lawyer Dymond Spain, chairwoman; Dale Knowles, Tracey Henderson, Stephen Rochman and Thomas Donnelly Jr. 

“Evidence will be presented and a decision rendered in accordance with the ordinance,” said Bob Cogswell, a former city attorney who now serves as legal counsel to the Ethics Commission.

Gross, in his complaint, accuses Hawkins of enlisting city property and employees for personal use; using a K-9 officer from the Police Department to train her family dog; interfering with Internal Affairs investigations in 2018 and 2020; attempting to remove a member of the Fayetteville Police Benevolent Fund; allowing a K-9 trainer to place choke collars on canine officers; and employing a K-9 trainer as an officer with the department although the K-9 officer could not and did not attend Basic Law Enforcement training. 

“Currently I am representing three current employees, two former police officers and one former civilian employee,” Gross said. And in the case of Petti, the veteran officer is asking for reinstatement of his assistant chief badge, compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 for lost wages, vacated leave, attorneys fees and court costs, and punitive and special damages.

One complaint the commission will not hear is that Hawkins has used a Police Department employee to deliver and pick up her dry-cleaning and has used her patrol vehicle for personal travel to Georgia.  

“Mostly it was based on the ordinance that limited consideration to the last 12 months and violations of the ethics code as opposed to state law or policy,” Gross said about the dry-cleaning and city-owned vehicle use.

James Hairston, a local lawyer representing the police chief, said the allegations are without merit and that he will defend Hawkins vigorously. 

Hawkins has denied all of the allegations.

Something the police chief doesn’t have to defend is why the Police Department has not made an arrest in the fatal weekend shooting involving the off-duty deputy.

“We offer first our condolences” to Jason Walker’s family, Hawkins said Sunday at a news conference at the Police Department. “In the course of our investigation, because it was an off-duty deputy, I  thought it better to bring in the SBI.”

Call that a reasonable and prudent decision, and one endorsed by Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West to avoid “any appearance of a conflict of interest.” 

Epilogue 

Otherwise, the chief has some explaining to do this week.

Call Gina Hawkins prophetic.

“The city of Fayetteville will have a lot of people watching,” she said on Aug. 18, 2017.  

And this week, a lot of city residents and others are watching for sure.

Friday: “We ask everyone for patience.” 

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961. 

Fayetteville, police chief, Gina Hawkins, Ethics Commission

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