Police chief, lieutenant’s firing based on presumption they were declining interview with auditor

Police chief, lieutenant’s firing based on presumption they were declining interview with auditor
Gary Smith, left, and Michael Simmons, right. (Source: Brunswick County Sheriff's Office)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - In deciding to fire its police chief and top lieutenant, the City of Southport presumed neither law enforcement officer was willing to participate in an internal audit prompted by their arrests on public corruption charges, documents show.

“You have received two letters informing you of your obligation as an employee of the City of Southport to comply with an interview with representatives from the US ISS Agency, LLC, who are performing an independent internal administrative investigation into the criminal allegations lodged against you,” City Manager Bruce Oakley wrote in the Oct. 3 termination letters to Chief Gary Smith and Lt. Michael Simmons.

Smith and Simmons were arrested on July 26 after a state and federal probe found the pair were working for a trucking company during hours they claimed to be policing in Southport, according to officials. They both are charged with conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, willful failure to discharge duties, and obstruction of justice. Smith was later indicted on an additional charge of obtaining property by false pretense.

Smith apparently did not respond to either of Oakley’s two prior letters.

“Since I have not heard anything from you, I assume you are declining to participate with the interview,” Oakley wrote. “Therefore, your employment with the City of Southport has been terminated immediately.”

Simmons called and left Oakley a message on Oct. 2, according to the letter, but “did not state (his) willingness to be interviewed.”

“I called you back and left you a message,” Oakley wrote. “Since I have not heard back I assume you are declining to participate with the interview. Therefore, your employment with the City of Southport has been terminated immediately.”

Neither Smith nor Simmons appealed the city’s decision to terminate their employment, Oakley confirmed Tuesday morning.

The criminal investigation effectively shut down the Southport Police Department, as the city immediately placed the entire department on leave pending the outcome of the aforementioned audit. Law enforcement services have been provided by the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office since that time.

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