BALD HEAD ISLAND, NC (WECT) - Nine public safety officers from Bald Head Island were involved in an alleged policy violation which resulted in five officers being terminated from their positions.
Karen Ellison, a spokesperson for the village, said at least three other officers were disciplined for being a party to, but not actively involved; however, Ellison said those three unidentified officers did receive a reprimand as well as 90 days of probation due to their involvement in the matter.
Ellison said an additional officer who was associated with the conflict resigned effective August 8, 2014 to take another position.
Donald Koons, Herbert Bryant, Jesse Conner, Lt. Nick Terrell, and Lt. Thomas Cannon were fired, according to their termination letters. According to the Village of Bald Head Island website, both Terrell and Cannon were Lieutenants and shift supervisors.
The termination letters of Herbert Bryant, Donald Koons, and Nick Terrell stated communications Koons, Bryant and Terrell took part in from July 25, 2014 to August 15, 2014 violated Village policies related to harassment and sexual harassment, discourteous treatment of other employees and inappropriate electronic communications.
"In 11 years of service I've never had so much as a written warning," said Terrell about his termination. "I'm appalled. These text messages were in a private conversation. No text messages were ever directed to harass anyone, definitely not to sexually harass anyone. In due time, under further investigation, I believe our side of the story will come out."
Terrell's attorney, Sam potter, said the text messages were not during work hours, and were sent from his personal phone.
Bryant released a statement Labor Day questioning his termination and what it was exactly that got him fired.
I felt compelled to write this letter after reading the response from the administrators at the Village of Bald Head Island.
Unfortunately, I'm one of the five public safety officers fired in the cautionary tale of private texting on personal phones.
Since I don't know, I'll speculate as to the context and nature of the private texting in question: Were they lyrics to a Jay-Z song or a quote from a Seth Rogen movie? Seriously, Did I just get fired for quoting a movie in a private text to friends?
I think that if I had only surreptitiously recorded every off-colored joke that I have heard around the Bald Head Island Public Safety building in just the past year. I would have been so much better prepared for going to the mattresses.
Sigh. What a slippery slope.
I feel that the ACLU should be interested in this debacle, and I am after all, a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I just felt that God was in the rain when I joined, you know?
There are at least two very different versions of the story. I wish the Village would release a complete and unredacted copy of ALL the "communications" to the media: I think they owe it to me.
This incident has tarnished my reputation and destroyed my career as a public safety officer. Moreover, I think there is an ulterior motive for the firings and that is another story entirely.
I'm heartbroken for the citizens of Bald Head Island, they are some of the most thoughtful and caring people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Furthermore, I apologize to the citizens of Bald Head Island for my part in this travesty. They deserve better than this mess. I have no desire for self-preservation when it comes to the travestying of the truth in this matter.
With that being said, I would like to hold an invitation only meeting at a private residence on Bald Head Island in the near future in regard to what I know in this matter. I feel that I owe the citizens of Bald Head Island at least that much.
The termination letter of Thomas Cannon stated that his conduct in communications he took part in from July 25, 2014 through August 15, 2014 violated Village policies related to harassment, discourteous treatment of other employees, and inappropriate electronic communications.
Cannon said he was confused as to why he was fired, stating that he was on the verge of retiring.
"I'm confused at the situation as to why I was terminated. I'm getting ready to retire anyway. I don't keep the text message so I don't know what they are talking about," Cannon said. "It's a private text so to me, that is what is confusing. I hate it for the people we take care of and they are going to be short officers again."
Iris Cannon, Cannon's wife, said her heart goes out to the young guys who have their entire careers ahead of them.
The termination letter of Jesse Conner states that his conduct in communications he took part in from July 25, 2014 to August 15, 2014 violated Village policies related to discourteous treatment of other employees and inappropriate use of electronic communications.
Due to the fact that his termination violated the BLET training agreement, Conner will have to pay the Village $2,326.01.
Conner released a statement against the department Friday evening, claiming upper management was the reason "certain crucial members" have been terminated:
I encourage the press to thoroughly investigate the Bald Head Island Public Safety Department as a whole to include part time, and volunteer staff members, both current and recently separated either by termination or resignation. The work environment has consisted of inadequate communication, what appears to be dishonesty, and a lack of confidence in operations and leadership. Our department has survived and has answered alarms based on the functional ability, knowledge, and experience of a few individuals from each shift. Some of these members were previous employees. Some of these members are part time and volunteer staff. It is because of the lack of confidence and ability in our upper management that we have seen certain crucial members terminated, or pushed out the door.
I was not provided evidence to support my termination or shown electronic communications that prove the allegations in my termination letter. I have never been disciplined while at Bald Head Island nor has management ever communicated any wrong doing or policy violations until now. I was handed a termination letter of which I was to read and then stripped of my duty attire.
During my tenure at the Village of Bald Head Island I have strived for continual improvement of myself and our department and have served our community to the best of my ability. Despite the allegations against myself and others, the community, on many occasions, has communicated their appreciation for our service by visiting the department or sending written communication.
All termination letters went on to say, "The egregious nature of these communications and the flagrant violation of policy constitutes detrimental personal conduct and is thereby grounds for immediate termination."
"The actions of these officers constituted a violation of our internal policies, and although not criminal in nature, we determined that the acts were sufficiently harmful to warrant termination," Calvin Peck, Jr. the Village Manager said. "I applaud Dr. Caroline Mitchell, our Director of Public Safety, for putting the interests of her employees ahead of public opinion. Leadership is defined in moments like this when the right path must take precedent over the easy path."
Officials said the Village of Bald Head Island has adequate staff to continue all operations and they will work to replace the officers.
Koon's picture is not in this story because he was not listed on Bald Head Island's website.
Check back for more information in this developing story.