WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A Wilmington police officer who was demoted last year after he wrongly told an Uber-driving attorney he could not film law enforcement officers was reinstated to his former position earlier this year, then abruptly retired the next day.
The Feb. 26, 2017 traffic stop involving Sgt. Kenneth Baker and Uber driver Jesse Bright – during which Becker was captured on cell phone video threatening to take Bright to jail if he continued to video the encounter – took the internet by storm.
Becker was demoted from sergeant to corporal and reassigned several weeks after the incident, and the Wilmington Police Department issued a statement to reassure the public that you can, in fact, record police. That statement was also passed to each officer in the department, officials said at that time.
But Becker was later reinstated after appealing his demotion to the city's Civil Service Commission, a group that can overturn personnel actions taken by city departments. Though the Commission is subject to the state's open records law, discussions or decisions concerning personnel remain confidential, keeping most of this situation's details out of the public sphere.
The traffic stop
Bright's vehicle was stopped because a passenger in his vehicle was suspected of taking part in a drug deal.
"Be careful because there is a new law," Becker told Bright during the stop. "Turn (the recording) off or I'll take you to jail."
Soon after, an unidentified deputy with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office confirmed Becker's assertion that there was a law that had "just passed" that prevents the public from recording law enforcement officers.
Bright then identified himself as an attorney, saying he knew of no law that would prevent such an act, and continued to record.
Reinstatement and backdated pay raise
Though the deputy, who was never identified, was only "counseled" following the encounter, three weeks later Becker was demoted, which included a pay decrease, and reassigned.
What remains unclear, however, is the timing of his reinstatement.
According to the Commission's charter, Becker had to appeal the demotion to the city's Civil Service Commission, which ruled in his favor, within ten working days.
City officials declined to provide when the Commission met to hear Becker's case or when it issued its order. Its charter, however, does state the Commission has 60 days to hear that appeal.
Although personnel records provided by the police department show Becker was reinstated to sergeant on Sept. 27, 2017, it appears that only took effect following an employee action request that was approved on Jan. 30, 2018. That action retroactively reinstated his rank and backdated a pay raise to Sept. 27, 2017, "per order from Civil Service Commission," the document states.
The next day, Becker retired, according to records. Under North Carolina law, unless a public employee is terminated, no additional information regarding their separation has to be provided.