Judge found no legal basis for police complaints
Superior Court Judge Henry Hight’s order dismissing a civil suit filed by four former and current Kill Devil Hills police officers against the town appeared to hinge on reasoning that they had no legal remedies under state or federal law.
The order notes that the plaintiffs had voluntarily withdrawn federal claims citing violation of the U.S. Constitution’s freedom of speech and due process clauses as well as claims under the U.S. Civil Code for civil rights violations.
It further acknowledges the plaintiffs’ prior withdrawal of claims under North Carolina General Statutes concerning the “Whistleblower Act” and charges of superiors “willfully failing to discharge their official duties, swearing falsely.”
The legal action had turned into a tug of war as the town’s legal counsel, Cranfill, Sumner and Hartzog, succeeded in having it moved to federal court, where proving most employee based claims is generally more difficult.
Dennis Rose, the attorney for the plaintiffs, was subsequently granted a petition to move the case back to District 1 Superior Court. But that meant withdrawing the more serious federal claims.
The lawyers also battled over custody of personnel files, copies of which were being held by the Superior Court in Manteo. They were at the center of claims that personnel records and been altered or falsified.
At the hearing, Judge Hight focused on the defendants’ motion to dismiss under “Rule 12 of the Federal and North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.”
One local attorney who asked to remain anonymous said Rule 12 essentially meant that even if everything the plaintiffs’ alleged was true, they had no viable legal claims.
“As a matter of law they had no legal claims or theories recognized by the law and the law afforded no protections,” he said.
Discovery, the part of the process where both sides depose potential witnesses and gather evidence, had not started at the time of the dismissal.
Named in the suit were Town Manager Debora Diaz, Assistant Town Manager Shawn Murphy and Police Chief Gary Britt.
Andrew Ennis, Joseph Knight, David Shane Allen and Robert Booth had previously filed complaints with Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett alleging wrongful termination, alteration of personnel files, favoritism and assignment of quotas. The same assertions were also the basis of their civil suit.
Booth was previously terminated from the department, and Allen was allowed to resign after the department originally informed him he was to be fired.
Ennis and Knight were suspended May 29 after Britt filed a complaint that they were interfering with his administration of the police department.
Following an internal investigation, the town held a disciplinary meeting that resulted in Knight’s termination. Ennis was transferred to animal control.
Britt was put on non-disciplinary suspension last October after the town received word that District Attorney Frank Parrish intended to file a petition to have him removed. Parrish’s petition outlined points similar to those in complaints filed with Tillett by the four officers.
The town conducted an internal investigation in conjunction with the North Carolina League of Municipalities, its insurance underwriter. It concluded the Britt was involved in no intentional wrongdoing but needed to work on his management skills.
Parrish never filed the petition, and Britt returned to his job in December.
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