Representatives from the NAACP accused officials with the Town of Mooresville of inappropriately meddling in police department business, ultimately resulting in what they claim was a retaliatory, racially-motivated removal of the police chief.
Police Chief Damon Williams was placed on paid administrative leave June 3 after a four month-long hostile work environment investigation.
The “hands-on meeting” at Watkins Chapel AME Zion Church was standing-room only Monday evening as NAACP District Director Amos McClorey, NAACP Mooresville-South Iredell branch President Curtis Johnson and branch presidents from Statesville, Salisbury and Cabarrus County gathered to tell the public what they believe are the real reasons behind Williams’ disciplinary action.
“All of us came here today to make sure you hear what’s happening right here in your hometown,” McClorey said. “We want to make sure you get the facts. We called this because we want you to get it right. Don’t listen to street talk, don’t listen to a bunch of gossip, but get it from where we can present it to you the best we know.”
McClorey said he interviewed Williams before the chief was placed on administrative leave and Williams gave him “his story.”
“We think it’s an unjustifiable suspension,” said McClorey.
Mayor Miles Atkins said Tuesday through an email that Williams being placed on administrative leave was not retaliatory. The action was taken by Interim Town Manager Ryan Rase based on his review of the ongoing investigation, Atkins said. Both Atkins and the Board of Commissioners involvement in the investigation has been limited to receiving updates in closed session from former Town Manager David Treme and Rase, he said. “The Board ultimately has no control over personnel at the police department and has left that with the interim Town Manager,” Atkins wrote in the email.
Williams has been working to diversify the police force and address complaints of sexual harassment and racism since he was appointed chief three years ago, said Diane Sheehan, communications director for the NAACP’s Mooresville-South Iredell branch.
That did not go over well within the department, she said. “Chief Williams became a disruptor to the good old boy network,” Sheehan said.
These tensions helped lead to claims of a hostile work environment led by Williams, she said.
On June 3, Rase informed Williams he was placing him on administrative leave with pay upon the completion of 70 interviews by third-party agency U.S. ISS Agency investigating claims of a hostile work environment. The investigation then branched into other areas, Rase said, declining to elaborate further.
The same night, Rase also placed Police Capt. David Call, supervisor of the Criminal Investigations Division, on administrative leave with pay.
Rase said Williams could be on administrative leave as long as until August when the final investigation report is concluded. Until then, Deputy Chief Gerald Childress will lead the department, he said.
The day after he was placed on administrative leave, Williams said in a phone interview with the Mooresville Tribune/Statesville Record & Landmark that he believes the town is retaliating against him for an internal affairs probe into the department’s narcotics division late last year.
Commissioners Gary West and Barbara Whittington denied this claim last week.
Officials have confirmed that there have been three externally led investigations into the department, including the ongoing investigation involving Williams, but did not specify the department’s involved in those. U.S. ISS did not respond to a request for comment.
The police chief and other town employees fall under the jurisdiction of the town manager, not the mayor or board, Sheehan said.
The group also called into question an email from Commissioner Gary West to the board on Feb. 19, 2019 about the investigation.
In an email response to the Mooresville Tribune/Statesville Record & Landmark, West said Tuesday there was some discussion between the board and t Treme concerning whether Williams should be placed on administrative leave at the beginning of the investigation.
“The context of the email was to simply suggest that this was a Personnel matter for the Town Manager to handle and if he felt there was no evidence to do so at the time, we should let ISS conduct an unbiased investigation and they could then inform us on what next steps would be,” West wrote in the email. “The Town Manager agreed and the Board supported it.”
Johnson urged the public to attend the local branch chapter’s NAACP meeting Thursday at the Mooresville Public Library at 7 p.m. where more information on Williams and other matters will be discussed.
“We want Chief Williams to leave here on his own terms,” McClorey said.