WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Superior Court Judge Josh Willey ruled against the release of law enforcement recordings of reported racist conversations among three Wilmington Police Department officers following a court hearing Thursday.
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.
On Thursday, Assistant City Attorney Daniel Thurston argued that the release of the recordings is necessary for transparency, saying it will show the community “we have nothing to hide” and start the “healing process.”
Attorney Michael McGuinness, who is representing Piner and Moore and specializes in cases involving law enforcement, argued against the release of the tapes, saying it would “add to fires raging in Wisconsin” where protests continue in Kenosha over the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake. On Wednesday, Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old police admirer was arrested, accused of shooting and killing two people and injuring a third during those protests.
McGuinness painted a picture of similar violence erupting in Wilmington if the videos of the conversations of the former WPD officers are released.
He said it will put officers’ lives in danger by bringing protesters to Wilmington when people see the recordings “live on Rachel Maddow or WECT.”
Thurston countered, saying there have not been violent protests in two-and-a-half months — even after the initial transcript of the recordings was released.
Last month, the judge granted McGuinness more time to work on his arguments for today’s hearing, which gave the judge time to view the videos for himself.
The judge seemed swayed by McGuinness’ argument that the recordings could lead to violence in the city, saying the audio is “much more inflammatory when you listen to it.”
Willey added that he thinks the WPD and the city showed transparency in how they handled the entire situation and he commended them for their efforts.
“The cancer they represent in the police department has been cut out,” Willey said.
Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams issued the following statement after the court’s decision:
“We petitioned the court to release this video in an effort to be transparent; however, we understand and support the judge’s decision.
As I said in my statement on June 24: Please do not judge our agency based on the conduct of a few. We have great officers who go above and beyond to do what’s right, and I proudly stand with them and beside them.
We are all hurt by this incident. We are all angry. Let this be an opportunity for us to come together as a community and heal.
We will be stronger for it.
Due to a law signed in 2016 by former Governor Pat McCrory, police recordings are not considered public record and require a judge to order their release.