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Ethics Commission dismisses all allegations against Police Chief Hawkins

Chief Gina Hawkins said the false allegations damaged not only her reputation, but that of the Police Department and the community.


The Fayetteville Ethics Commission announced Thursday night that it is dismissing all eight allegations police employees made against Police Chief Gina Hawkins that it had agreed to hear.

The commission met in closed session at City Hall every night since Tuesday, interviewing Hawkins and current and former police employees before announcing that the allegations would be dismissed. After the announcement, two of the five commission members declined to discuss the decision, saying they were bound by law not to talk publicly.

Hawkins left City Hall almost immediately after the announcement. She spoke briefly to a CityView TODAY reporter in the parking lot.

Hawkins said Mikael Gross, the lawyer for the police employees who filed the complaint, spread lies and fed them to the media when he knew that doing so was illegal. Hawkins said Gross “did not provide one piece of evidence” that was factual.

“He has absolutely impacted my reputation,” said Hawkins, who appeared perturbed by the allegations and relieved to put them behind her. “It’s not my reputation, it’s the community’s reputation. He presented nothing but lies.

“There are consequences for everything he did. He is an attorney that knows the law.”

The allegations against Hawkins included driving a city-owned patrol car for personal use; having her pet dog trained by the Police Department’s K-9 trainer; hiring someone after gang investigators told her that the person was a verified gang member; and seeking to have a member of the Police Benevolent Fund removed from its board before an internal investigation could be held.

Hawkins denies all of the allegations.

On behalf of the police employees, Gross filed 14 complaints with the Ethics Commission, which agreed to hear eight of them.

After the hearing, Gross provided a statement in which he rehashed some of the complaints and details of the evidence he says supported them. He said he was surprised by the dismissal.

“This is not all the evidence I presented,” Gross wrote, “but I clearly thought it was sufficient with Hawkins’ personal knowledge of the events, her own admissions, and the uncontroverted evidence that it was sufficient to withstand a dismissal.

“While I am disappointed in the decision of the Ethics Committee to dismiss all the allegations in the complaint, I understand that the decision was the Commission’s to make, and it did. There were no reasons given for the dismissal, only that all allegations were dismissed.”

Gross said he has been practicing law for 20 years and has never had a single complaint filed against him.

Evidence may never be known

The public may never know what evidence was presented to the Ethics Commission in its entirety.

Before the commission dismissed the allegations against Hawkins, the city said the records  provided – and the minutes of the hearings – are likely to be shielded by state open records laws governing personnel matters.

But that remains a matter of debate. 

Amanda Martin, a lawyer for the N.C. Press Association, argues that a 1992 state Supreme Court decision – the Raleigh News & Observer v. Poole – applies to the city’s Ethics Commission, as well. 

The issue in the Poole case was whether law enforcement records became public once in the hands of the Poole Commission, which was investigating alleged improprieties by the N.C. State University men’s basketball team. 

Martin said the court ruled that only records first gathered by an employing agency and provided to a public body can be considered confidential personnel records.

“As in Poole, I do not think you are entitled to get from the Ethics Commission anything that was first gathered by the employing agency,” Martin wrote in an email. “However, anything that was submitted directly to the Ethics Commission without going first through the employing agency (such as complaints lodged directly with the Commission) is not personnel. Likewise, any report by the Commission is not personnel.”

Frayda Bluestein, Professor of Public Law and Government with the UNC School of Government, has a different opinion.

Bluestein argues that in the Poole case, the records provided to the Poole Commission were gathered by the State Bureau of Investigation and not by the employer.

“So the court held that they were not confidential personnel records,” Bluestein said. “In your situation, these records are personnel records, including the minutes of the closed sessions dealing with personnel issues.”

Bluestein noted that the Ethics Commission is part of city government. As such, she said, the city is essentially the Ethics Commission's employer and all records the commission received in Hawkins’ case were gathered by the city.

“They are personnel records now,” she said.

Martin anticipated that argument.

“It is conceivable to me that they may argue that the Ethics Commission is essentially part of the employing agency – the City –  but I don’t think that argument wins,” she wrote in her email. 

CityView TODAY has made an open records request for the documents provided to the Ethics Commission that aren’t considered by law to be confidential.

Some of the witnesses

As it had done the two previous nights, the Ethics Commission met in closed session Thursday for almost the entirety of its hearing, which lasted about an hour and a half. The hearing was broadcast on Zoom, but only a short opening and closing of it was made public, including the decision to dismiss the allegations. 

Gross said Hawkins testified before the commission Wednesday night. He declined to reveal her testimony publicly. 

On Tuesday night, former police Ceasefire coordinator Lisa Jayne was among the witnesses who attended the hearing. Jayne contends that Hawkins fired her without cause in 2020.

On Wednesday, Dianne Bettis said she testified against the chief that night. Bettis, who had worked for the Police Department for more than 24 years, said she was removed from the K-9 unit after refusing orders from the dog trainer, which she said would have resulted in her dog starving. 

Bettis, now a staff sergeant with the Hoke County Sheriff’sOffice, said Hawkins was aware of improprieties in the K-9 unit and did nothing to resolve them. 

Gross also represents Fayetteville police Lt. Michael Petti, who Hawkins demoted from assistant chief in 2019. In August, Petti filed a lawsuit against Hawkins and the city in Cumberland County Superior Court. Petti alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated. The lawsuit is pending.

Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at gregbarnes401@gmail.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, Ethics Commission, Police Department, Police Chief Gina Hawkins