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Fayetteville Ethics Commission begins hearings into police employee complaints

As the Ethics Commission heard complaints filed against Police Chief Gina Hawkins, who denies all of the allegations, people gathered outside City Hall to protest the death of Jason Walker.

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The Fayetteville Ethics Commission began hearing testimony Tuesday night into eight allegations city police employees have made against Police Chief Gina Hawkins. 

Hawkins has denied all of the allegations. In her required response to the complaints, Hawkins called them “extremely slanderous to my personal integrity.”

The Ethics Commission met for three hours in a room in City Hall, which is undergoing renovation. The public and the media were not allowed inside because of the renovations and protocol that has been followed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, city spokeswoman Nacarla Webb said. 

The commission opened the meeting, which was broadcast live on Zoom, and then almost immediately went into closed session because personnel matters were to be discussed. 

The agenda said the commission was to hear the employees’ allegations and then Hawkins’ rebuttal before it began deliberations. The commission is scheduled to continue the hearings at 6 p.m. tonight. 

Protesters show up

Shortly after the meeting began, people started gathering outside City Hall to protest the shooting death of Jason Walker, a 37-year-old black man from Fayetteville. Police say Walker was shot Saturday by off-duty Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy Jeffrey Hash near Walker’s Bingham Drive home. Hash, who is white, has been suspended from the Sheriff’s Office with pay while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the shooting. No charges have been filed.

As the Ethics Commission continued to hear the allegations against Hawkins, the protesters held signs and chanted “Forward together, not one step back,” “all of us or none of us” and “what’s his name, Jason Walker,” before marching to the Market House and back. 

“We are the community,” said Michelin Gordon of Raeford as she and the other protesters stood in almost freezing weather. “If we don’t speak, no one will listen.”

About 7:30 p.m., Mayor Mitch Colvin released a statement expressing his condolences to the families of Walker and Stephen Addison, who was shot and killed last week while riding his motorcycle at Cliffdale and Skibo roads. Roger Nobles, 51, has been charged with first-degree murder in that case. Police say the shooting stemmed from road rage. Addison was black; Nobles is white.

As a father and an African American man, I can empathize with what these two families are experiencing during this turbulent time,” Colvin said in the statement. “As a City, we must continue to come together, help one another, and look out for those in need. As we battle with the strains from the pandemic along with the financial and emotional hardships it has caused, we must not resort to violence in any capacity and at any point.”

Council candidate denied entry to hearing

A frustrated Michael Pinkston stood outside City Hall, too. Pinkston said he had tried to get into the Ethics Commission hearing but was turned away. 

Pinkston, a City Council candidate for District 8, said he tried to enter City Hall alongside Mikael Gross, the lawyer representing the police employees, and Lisa Jayne, a former police Ceasefire coordinator who Hawkins fired in 2020. Pinkston said he wanted to attend the hearing to show support for Jayne.

Pinkston, who owns the Climbing Place downtown, said he feels that his constitutional and civil rights were violated. 

The commission has agreed to hear eight of 14 allegations that Gross filed on behalf of the police employees. Gross also represents Lt. Michael Petti, who Hawkins demoted from assistant chief in 2019, in a civil lawsuit filed in August in Cumberland County Superior Court. 

After the hearing, Gross declined to comment, saying the commission asked him not to discuss the case. He said he’d talk after the commission makes its recommendations to the City Council through its attorney, Bob Cogswell. 

The allegations by police employees include:

  • Hawkins has fired employees for misusing city property or converting it to personal use, yet she has used her city-issued patrol car for personal use, including driving it to Georgia for personal business.
  •  Hawkins had her personal dog trained by the Police Department’s K-9 trainer. “The misuse of the contract, appearing to be a quid pro quo, resulted in personal gain for Hawkins from city contracts, at taxpayer expense, which violates both state law and city policy.” 
  • “Hawkins allowed the K-9 trainer to place choke collars on Fayetteville K-9 officers and place them on the ground like a dog to teach them what it feels like to be a dog on a leash and collar. This was demeaning and inappropriate as the officers ARE NOT dogs and do not need to be on a leash or collar. Additionally, this is not an acceptable or standard training procedure.” 
  • Hawkins hired the K-9 trainer as a police officer even though the trainer has had issues with training and standards and cannot attend Basic Law Enforcement Training. Hawkins had the employee ride with a K-9 officer, conducting criminal interdiction and traffic stops, which could violate laws. 
  • Hawkins had on-duty police officers search for her personal dog, which had gotten loose from her home. According to the complaint, Hawkins' call about her dog to the computer-aided dispatch system had been removed. 
  • Hawkins ordered someone to be hired after gang investigators told her that the person was a verified gang member. She advised that she had not authorized anyone to investigate the new hire. Hawkins then had Internal Affairs investigate the entire gang unit. The employee with gang affiliations later resigned over issues related to the position. 
  • Hawkins reached out to the nonprofit Police Benevolent Fund to have an employee removed from the board before an internal investigation could be held. The board refused to remove the employee.

 “Hawkins’ command staff is fearful she will retaliate if they tell the truth about her actions and the City Manager has allowed her to run roughshod over the department in a manner inconsistent with the ethics and morays we would expect of any city employee, much less the Chief of Police,” Gross wrote in the complaint.

 Hawkins’ rebuttal

 In her response, Hawkins addressed each of the allegations, calling them false or untrue, or saying she had no knowledge of them.

 Concerning the allegation that she fired police officers for using city property for personal use, Hawkins said she has “terminated employees for lying,” including those Gross has represented.

 She said the allegation that she had her personal dog trained by the department’s K-9 trainer has been investigated internally. She also said she had no knowledge of the K-9 trainer placing choke collars on Fayetteville K-9 officers. She called the allegation false.

 Hawkins said that she never hired the K-9 trainer as a police officer and that her expectations of the trainer riding with K-9 officers was to assist with field training. She said any police stops during that time were made by police officers.

 “I would never condone anyone who is not certified to conduct illegal police stops,” Hawkins said in her response.

 She called the allegation that she had on-duty officers search for her dog false, and wrote that, to her knowledge, no call was removed from the dispatch system. She said she had called the communications systems supervisor that day to see if anyone had reported a lost dog. 

 “I never requested assistance or asked for officers to respond,” Hawkins wrote.

 The City Council appoints the five-member Ethics Commission, an advisory board that investigates alleged violations of the city’s ethics policy and reports its findings to the council. 

 The commission is made up of one member of the Cumberland County Bar Association, one from the Sandhills Chapter of Certified Public Accountants, one from a college or university and two from the public at large. The board meets “as needed.”

 Current board members are Dale Knowles, Tracey Henderson, Dr. Stephen Rochman, Thomas Donnelly Jr. and Chairman Dymond Spain. 

 In his complaint, Gross said the allegations came to his attention over the last nine months.

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, Fayetteville Police Department, Chief Gina Hawkins, shooting, protesters

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