WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Superior Court Judge Josh Willey ruled in favor of a continuance in the case of the potential release of law enforcement recordings of reported racist conversations among three Wilmington Police Department officers. The judge plans to hear the case on Thurs., Aug. 27 and determine if the recordings should be released to the public.
The conversations, which were recorded on an in-car camera of a patrol car, were the basis for the terminations of Officer James Gilmore, Cpl. Jesse Moore II, and Officer Kevin Piner in June.
A review of the footage showed two conversations between Piner and Gilmore, and Piner and Moore that contained “disrespectful language, hate-filled speech, and referring to black people as the ‘n-word.’”
The city released written portions of the conversations, but not the audio or video.
Attorney Michael McGuinness, who is representing Piner and Moore, asked for more time to work on his arguments against the release of the videos.
“This recording is the most inflammatory, bad police language that I’ve heard in 32 years, and if that is released into the community, we fear that violence already existing in Wilmington, we believe that is going to continue,” McGuinness told the judge.
McGuinness, who specializes in cases involving law enforcement, said he needed more time to gather documents and investigate the case, saying he’s been busy with what he called “a declared war on the police community.”
According to documents released by WPD, Piner can be heard telling Moore that the country needed a civil war and talked about killing black citizens to “wipe ‘em off the f****** map. That’ll put ‘em back about four or five generations.” Moore responded, “you’re crazy.”
McGuinness revealed during the hearing that his clients have received death threats and have been forced to move from their homes out of concern for their safety.
He also stated that he plans to call one expert witness and he believed the case should be argued in-person rather than over a video conference, which is how Wednesday’s hearing was held.
Assistant City Attorney Daniel Thurston argued that the city and the Wilmington Police Department were ready to proceed.
“Citizens want closure,” said Thurston. “We want to move on.”
Thurston also told the judge this is the first time WPD is arguing in favor of the release of a law enforcement recording. He stated that Wilmington’s new Chief Donny Williams wants the department to be more transparent.
An attorney representing Gilmore filed notice of appeal with the city earlier this month over his firing.
While Piner and Moore were reportedly recorded using racist terms and calling for violence against black people, Gilmore claimed his comments were of a different nature.
He discussed his concern with a video he had seen on social media of white people “bowin’ on their knees – chanting about worshiping blacks” and a video with a “fine looking white girl and a punk little pretty boy, bowing down kissing their toes.”
The judge said he plans to review the recordings before the next hearing.
It is up to a judge to make the call on the release of police recordings because of a 2016 law signed by former Governor Pat McCrory, which states that police recordings are not public records and outlines rules for disclosure of such videos.