WECT Investigates: WPD changes policy as top cop retires

WECT Investigates: WPD changes policy as top cop retires
Deputy Chief Marshall Williamson (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - In the days surrounding the sudden retirement of one of the city's top police officers, WECT has learned that the Wilmington Police Department changed its policy regarding how officers check out ammunition.

Former Deputy Chief Marshall Williamson retired last month, one week after returning from paid administrative leave in the midst of an investigation. Officials were looking into claims of larceny, alleging that Williamson took police department ammunition for his personal use.

Williamson was ultimately cleared after an internal investigation, plus a review by state authorities.

The Ammunition Logs

According to dozens of documents obtained through a series of public records requests, Deputy Chief Williamson checked out more than 13,000 rounds of ammunition from the WPD between June of 2013 and December of 2015, often with no clear official purpose stated on the inventory logs.  Law enforcement experts estimate the current value of that ammunition at approximately $6,000.

Williamson was a highly trained firearms instructor for the WPD, but according to inventory logs, he still checked out significantly more ammo than many of his fellow instructors over this time frame.

SWAT Ammunition

Significantly, inventory logs show Williamson checked out thousands of 9mm rounds from the SWAT ammunition room, even though he was not part of the SWAT unit. As a general rule, most members of the Wilmington Police force used .45 caliber weapons at the time, and SWAT members were the only ones routinely issued 9mm weapons.

In the inventory log column where officers list a reason for checking out ammunition, the explanations for the 9mm ammo Williamson checked out range from "For M. Williamson" to "Training D.C." to no explanation at all.

When cross referencing the dates he checked out this ammo with his official schedule, the 9mm ammunition was frequently checked out before Williamson took vacation time or traveled to out-of-town conferences. There is no mention on his schedule of any firearms training or visiting the shooting range within a two-week period after checking out the 9mm ammo.

Prior Complaint about Ammunition Use

A WPD spokeswoman tells us that in 2014, a complaint was lodged about improper use of ammunition, but there was not enough evidence at the time to launch an internal affairs investigation.

Inventory logs show that at the end of 2014, Williamson stopped checking out 9mm ammo. On two separate occasions after checking out .45 cal ammo, he has notes on his calendar indicating he visited the shooting range a short time later.

New Complaint Alleges Larceny

In March, a new complaint was emailed to WECT, the WPD, and the NC Department of Justice, raising concerns about Williamson's ammunition use.  The same month the email was sent, Evangelous appointed James Varrone as interim assistant police chief, which put him above Williamson as second-in-command in the department.

In early April, District Attorney Ben David sent a letter to the SBI which read in part:

"Chief Evangelous notified me this morning that an internal affairs investigation has been completed. I request that the SBI take immediate possession of the WPD's records that relate to this alleged criminal conduct. I will also be requesting that you work with prosecutors with the Financial Crimes Unit of the Conference of District Attorneys to determine if any charges are warranted and for the prosecution of this matter in the event that charges are filed."

Ultimately, the State Bureau of Investigation declined to investigate.

Tammy Smith, the White Collar Crime Prosecutor for the NC Conference of District Attorneys, wrote a letter to WPD Chief Ralph Evangelous explaining that criminal charges were not supported by the evidence she reviewed. Smith told WECT that evidence had been gathered internally by Wilmington Police, but not by an outside agency.

It is unclear what evidence Smith reviewed, as she has declined to elaborate when reached by phone. WECT's initial public records request for the ammunition logs was rejected because we were told those records were part of the internal investigation. When that investigation was completed, a spokesperson for the department forwarded the logs to the local media.

Ammunition Logs Difficult to Decipher

During our investigation of that material, we discovered that WPD only sent the logs for the SWAT team and not the logs from the Quartermaster.  After asking and receiving the logs from the Quartermaster, we once again discovered that we received a printed log and not the handwritten Quartermaster log.

The WPD spokesperson would not clarify what records were actually shared with the Conference of DAs during its review and apologized for missing the two other ammunition logs from our initial request.

It is noteworthy how difficult it is to track the inventory with the system that the WPD had in place at the time, particularly the logs for SWAT ammunition.

There are different logs for different types of ammunition. Some are handwritten and difficult to read. It is often unclear why the ammo was being checked out, or who was checking it out. Many times officers simply listed their initials, failed to list dates, or clear purposes. While Marshall Williamson checked out more ammo than most, the nature of his vague entries is not unusual.

WPD changes SWAT Ammunition Policy

After the internal investigation concluded and Williamson briefly returned to work before retiring, Chief Evangelous said that the complaint had been addressed and appropriate action had been taken.

WECT has now learned that the WPD made significant changes to its policy for checking out SWAT ammunition. The department recently released a copy of its revised policy, updated May 5, 2016.

That policy now states "SWAT ammunition shall only be utilized for SWAT related training and functions. Personnel, including firearms instructors, not assigned to SWAT will not be authorized to remove, obtain, or use SWAT ammunition."

It also specifically outlines what information will be included in the ammunition inventory log, which should make future ammunition use easier to track.

Despite the significant changes and his previous request that the SBI investigate, Chief Evangelous declined to comment further on the new policy or what led to it.

"I'm really not going to going into the whole ammo situation, there's individual, individuals who believe there's conspiracies going on, and I'm not going to play into them. This issue is over with, it's been over with, and I'm not going to dwell back into it again," Evangelous said Wednesday.

Retired Deputy Chief Williamson has obtained legal representation from local attorney Gary Shipman. When reached for comment about the allegations against Williamson and the updated department policy, Shipman sent the following response:

"Not interested in making any comments on 'allegations' from nameless cowards."

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