City Council discusses fired Wilmington Police officer’s appeal behind closed doors

City Council discusses fired Wilmington Police officer’s appeal behind closed doors

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington City Council met behind closed doors to discuss the appeal made by one of thee Wilmington Police Department officers fired over the summer for racist conversations caught on camera.

On Monday, after a several-hour-long agenda briefing, City Council entered into a closed session to discuss a number of lawsuits and other issues deemed private. A multi-page slidesshow listed the issues, two of which were related to James B. Gilmore.

The first topic of discussion was the appeal of Gilmore to the city’s Civil Service Board, the second, a Division of Employment Security (DES) unemployment claim filed by Gilmore.

Gilmore was one of three police officers fired in June for his role in multiple conversations between three officers that were caught on accident by a malfunctioning dashboard camera.

One of the conversations that was recorded called for the slaughter of Black people as well as a number of racial slurs, it is worth noting Gilmore was not involved in that particular conversation, a report with parts of conversations can be found below as released by the Wilmington Police Department. Earlier this year a judge denied a request to release the footage of the conversations.

However, Gilmore claimed his comments were not racially motivated and were in fact, protected by the First Amendment.

In July Gilmore filed his appeal to the city’s Civil Service Board claiming his comments were related to religion, and were not the same in nature as fellow officers Kevin Piner and Jesse Moore who called for violence against Black people.

“The Holy Bible teaches that no one should bow down before another human being or idol and worship them,” Gilmore explained in his appeal letter. “This conversation was about the Black Lives Matter protesters and was not racially motivated but expressed my personal opinions, based on my religious beliefs.”

“[T]he conversation, while on duty, was not made pursuant to my official duties, and my conversation was not directed towards any other employee of the WPD. Therefore, I believe my speech is protected by the First Amendment of the United State Constitution and my termination is without cause,” Gilmore concluded.

Civil Service Commission

The Civil Service Commission is a board that meets as needed and its meetings are typically not open to the public due to the nature of the meetings and state laws protecting personnel records.

The board serves as an appeals board for sworn police officers and firefighters, and can undo the firings of police officers if they so choose. While North Carolina is an at-will state, meaning employees generally can be fired without cause, however, police officers in Wilmington are not.

“Except as provided in section 11.5 of this act, an employee of the police or fire department of the City of Wilmington may be dismissed only for cause and with an opportunity to be heard in his or her own defense,” according to City Code.

The Civil Service Board consists of five members who are elected by members of the police department, the fire department, City Council, the New Hanover County medical society governing board, and by the sitting members of the Civil Service Commission, each entity named prior gets to vote on one member each.

The board has the power to overturn the disciplinary actions handed down by the Chief.

“If the commission determines that the employee has not violated a rule or regulation of the department, the commission shall reinstate [him] with appropriate back pay. In the conduct of its investigations, the commission may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths and compel the production of evidence,” according to City Code.

In October, City Clerk Penny Spicer-Sidbury provided WECT with the agenda’s for the past six months for the Civil Service Commission - it included one meeting date of Sept. 24, 2020, and a few items including the election of chairman, other business and adjournment.

That document can be found at the bottom of this article. It is not clear when the Civil Service Commission heard the appeal, but employment records from late October still listed Gilmore, Piner, and Moore as terminated by the city. A new request has been submitted to the city asking for the current employment status of Gilmore following Monday’s meeting.

Division of Employment Security

The second topic of discussion at Monday’s closed session was a DES unemployment claim Gilmore filed against the City of Wilmington.

It appears that Gilmore is attempting to receive unemployment benefits from the state due to the nature of the DES appeals process.

“The Appeals Section of DES, or the Appellate Section, conducts quasi-judicial evidentiary hearings on contested claims for unemployment insurance benefits. Appeals hearings before the Appeals Section are conducted by appeals referees who preside over hearings and issue decisions that contain findings of fact and conclusions of law,” according to the state’s website.

The state Board of Review is tasked with hearing four types of appeals, Higher Authority Appeals regarding Unemployment Benefits, tax cases, D-100 cases, and labor disputes.

After about an hour, City Council came back from closed session and took no action aside from giving ‘direction’ to the City Attorney regarding potential legal claims.

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