WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous held a press conference Wednesday afternoon in response to questions surrounding an internal investigation of the Narcotics Enforcement Unit that recently came to light.
"The integrity of the Wilmington Police Department is at stake here today and as chief of police I accept that responsibility," he said.
The internal investigation regarding the conduct of undercover police officers started in December of last year and was open until the end of February. A news release last week stated that officers acted outside of acceptable standards for the use of alcohol on an undercover prostitution and drug sting, but did not break any laws.
WECT.com has learned that Wilmington Police Lt. Kathy Cochran was the person to bring these concerns to light.
Cochran told WECT.com that she was the lieutenant in charge of the Vice and Narcotics unit during the time of the sting in question.
She admits she brought concerns to Internal Affairs after hearing details of the operation that didn't sync with what she had been told in the past by officers.
Cochran said she wished she had heard about the problems sooner than December, but said when she did hear about potential issues she immediately notified her supervisor.
According to her, the internal investigation was launched within 24 hours of that conversation.
Lt. Cochran said she was notified Tuesday that she was being transferred out of Vice and Narcotics.
Evangelous emphasized during the press conference Wednesday that no sexual activity was involved in the undercover investigation. He did say, however, a video camera with crucial information about the undercover sting had gone missing but wasn't reported until nine months after the operation.
Evangelous said it's common that things like this get lost, but they usually turn up. This video, that included audio and video of what happened in an RV used during the investigation, has not yet been found.
WECT asked Evangelous during the press conference if the department was trying to cover up the situation to keep a solid reputation. The police chief said he believes the officers used a "code of silence" to protect the agency. He said someone eventually came forward, and that's when the investigation began.
Evangelous told WECT.com that a "code of silence" is a theory used by police officers across the country. Unfortunately, officers feel like it is a better choice to keep quiet about situations that could jeopardize the department's reputation.
During the press conference, Evangelous announced a restructuring of the Narcotics Enforcement Unit. He said the department will transfer the Narcotics Enforcement Unit out of the Special Operations Division and into the Criminal Investigations Division under supervision of Captain J.T. Allsbrook.
He emphasized problems with supervision during this undercover sting numerous times during the press conference. He made a point to mention that the actions of these few officers was not a true reflection of the entire department.
"These guys made some errors in judgement and it was a total failure of supervision in this situation," he said. "I'm not prepared to paint the brush of everyone in this organization because of this incompetent supervision and this operation. To do that would be just wrong."
Evangelous also told officers Wednesday that Lieutenant D.A. Oyler is transferring from the Special Operations Division to the Criminal Investigations Division under Captain Allsbrook's supervision.
He also said he will revamp the process in which they pick and choose people for special cases.
According to records released to WECT.com this week by the city, three officers who were assigned to the Special Operations Unit have been demoted or suspended during this time period. The Vice & Narcotics unit, which ran this particular sting, is currently part of the Special Operations Unit. However, the WPD would not confirm if those personnel moves were related to the investigation.
We've asked to see all documents relating to the internal investigation. WPD won't release those citing state laws that protect personnel information. The city manager and city council could force the department to release more information, if essential to maintaining public confidence in the department. We talked to city leaders. It appears they are not planning on asking the department to release any more information just yet.
The uncover sting in question cost the department about $2,000. WECT.com asked the chief if we could get copies of the receipts for items and equipment used in the sting. He said an internal audit has not been completed. He wasn't sure if those receipts would be available to the public.
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