Southport police chief, top lieutenant fired amid criminal investigation

Southport police chief, top lieutenant fired amid criminal investigation
Gary Smith (left) and Michael Simmons (right)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The City of Southport has fired its police chief and top lieutenant, who were both arrested for public corruption charges that ultimately shut down the entire police department.

Chief Gary Smith and his second in command Lt. Michael Simmons were charged on July 26 with conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, willful failure to discharge duties, and obstruction of justice. Smith was also later indicted on an additional charge of obtaining property by false pretense.

Following their arrests, the city placed Smith, Simmons, and the rest of the department on administrative leave with pay, pending an internal audit by and outside firm and the ongoing criminal investigation. The city later suspended Smith and Simmons without pay, and retained the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services at a cost of $1,700 per day.

On Friday, City Manager Bruce Oakley confirmed Smith and Simmons were fired on Oct. 3. He added the city is “finishing up” the internal audit.

“I hope to have a completed report within the next few weeks,” Oakley said.

WECT requested copies of both Smith and Simmons’ termination letters, which are public documents under the state’s personnel law, however, Oakley said he would need to check with the city attorney to determine if they are “protected under personnel laws.”

A follow-up message pointing out the specific statute that allows the release of the requested documents – N.C.G.S. § 160A-168(b)(11) – was not immediately returned.

Six of the original seven officers not accused in the criminal case remain on paid leave. One officer has since left for another job, Oakley said.

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