The Fayetteville Ethics Commission is scheduled to hear allegations against Police Chief Gina Hawkins today and Wednesday.
The commission has agreed to hear eight of 14 allegations made against the chief by Police Department employees. The allegations are contained in a complaint filed in August by Raleigh lawyer Mikael Gross. A hearing had been scheduled for Dec. 14 but was postponed after a witness lost his son in a vehicle crash.
Hawkins declined to discuss the allegations or provide her written responses to them, citing personnel and open records laws.
But Gross provided a copy of the response Hawkins wrote to Robert Cogswell Jr., the attorney for the Ethics Commission.
In her response, Hawkins denied all of the allegations.
“The "complaints” and “amended complaints” submitted by Mr. Mikael R. Gross are extremely slanderous to my personal integrity but I will respond to the best of my ability to each charge as outlined in your letter to me,” Hawkins wrote.
Gross also provided a copy of the complaint that he filed on behalf of the Fayetteville police employees.
“While representing and advising several members of the Fayetteville Police Department in disciplinary actions and grievances, initiated and administered by Hawkins, I discovered that Hawkins engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of the agency's policies and procedures by implementing disciplinary action as a method of retaliation, discrimination, and controlling others through intimidation,” Gross wrote in the complaint.
In a related matter, Gross filed a civil lawsuit in August in Cumberland County Superior Court on behalf of Michael Petti, a former assistant chief who Hawkins had demoted to lieutenant. Hawkins and the city of Fayetteville are listed as defendants.
In the complaint being heard by the Ethics Commission, allegations by police employees include:
“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.
Responding to Gross’ comment by email, City Manager Doug Hewett said the city takes all allegations and complaints seriously and will continue to abide by its policies that protect the rights of employees.
“As such,” Hewett wrote, “the proceedings and complaint, per Ethics Commission policy, are confidential. I want to allow the Commission to follow their prescribed process and meet their responsibility in this matter and will await their decision.”
In her response, Hawkins addressed each of the allegations in order, 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.
The commission is scheduled to start the hearing at 6 p.m. today at City Hall. Most of the meeting is expected to be closed to the public because it involves city personnel matters.
In his complaint, Gross said the allegations came to his attention over the last nine months. Gross, who specializes in disciplinary issues against law enforcement, is representing Petti and has been involved in a separate matter involving Lisa Jayne, who was fired as the Police Department’s Ceasefire coordinator in 2020.
Petti alleges in his lawsuit that Hawkins and the city violated his constitutional rights and his right to due process when he was demoted from assistant chief to lieutenant in 2019. He also alleges that Hawkins did not follow departmental or city policy and that she "acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner."
Petti has worked for the Fayetteville Police Department since 1997. Former Police Chief Harold Medlock appointed him assistant chief. At the time of his demotion, Petti had no pending or active disciplinary actions. Shortly before his demotion, Hawkins gave Petti a rating of “exceeds expectations” on his annual performance exam, according to the lawsuit.
But on Nov. 7, 2018, the lawsuit says Hawkins and Petti were in a command staff meeting in the chief’s conference room, where Hawkins had said differences could be hashed out as long as everyone left with a “unified front.”
During that meeting, the lawsuit says, Petti spoke out and disagreed with Hawkins over a deployment schedule and shift times for officers. Other officers did the same.
The next day, Hawkins admonished Petti in her office, saying that he had been disrespectful and that the next time it happened he would be sent home and action would be taken, the lawsuit says. Petti then asked for permission to speak freely. When it was granted, Petti told Hawkins that she had told him a number of times that he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which he found offensive because his son suffers from the condition.
According to the lawsuit, Petti was demoted to lieutenant on Jan. 31, 2019, and his pay was stripped by about $21,000 a year.
Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.