WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – District Attorney Ben David held an emergency meeting with his staff Thursday in response to a botched undercover sting in 2012 that led to the reorganization of the Narcotics Unit of the Wilmington Police Department.
Despite the fact some officers have been transferred from the unit and one resigned, David said all court cases involving the officers from the undercover prostitution sting will be continued. He's postponing the cases in an effort to protect the integrity of the system and said he's not making any judgments just yet.
David said "all options are on the table," and he wants to gather all the facts before making any judgments. He's not ready to commit to a new investigation at this point, but hasn't ruled it out. David said Chief Ralph Evangelous is cooperating with the DA on this.
"Nothing is more important to me and the chief than making sure the integrity of this system is protected," said David. "We are going to take whatever steps are necessary to either restore that for those who lost it or maintain it for those who still have it."
David said he just received the department's entire internal investigation about the situation, so he could not provide many details.
The investigation started in December 2012 and was open until the end of February 2013. A news release said the investigation stated the officers acted outside of acceptable standards for the use of alcohol on an undercover prostitution and drug sting, but did not break any laws.
David said it is important for his office to consider all of the evidence from the incident, regardless of criminal charges.
"Even where we don't run afoul of criminal laws, if there's something that calls into question the integrity of the process - whether that's the credibility of the witnesses or the integrity of an evidence chain - we need to make that fully known," he said Thursday morning.
The district attorney said the chief of police is cooperating with his office and that the two of them are in constant contact about this situation. David said the focus is now on maintaining the integrity of the justice system.
"Nothing is more important than the integrity of this system," David said.
Evangelous held a press conference Wednesday afternoon in response to questions surrounding the internal investigation. The police chief said a video camera with crucial information about the undercover sting had gone missing but wasn't reported until nine months after the operation.
Evangelous blamed it on a "code of silence" among officers attempting to maintain the department's image.
If that's the case, David said something has to change.
"Obviously this is troubling from the standpoint that if there is this culture that the chief talked about, that it's immediately addressed because we have to ensure the integrity of the system," he said.
Wilmington Police Lt. Kathy Cochran said she was the lieutenant in charge of the Vice and Narcotics unit at the time and 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 was notified Tuesday that she was being transferred out of Vice and Narcotics.
Evangelous 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.
The police chief announced Wednesday 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.
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