Internal investigation reveals botched prostitution operation, ‘code of silence’ cover-up at WPD

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Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous

An internal investigation of the Wilmington Police Department’s narcotics enforcement team revealed inadequate documentation of funds, poor and ineffective supervision of the operation and a “code of silence” cover-up of a March 2012 undercover prostitution operation.

Nearly one year later, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous addressed the investigation—that also revealed at least one officer was drunk during the operation—at a press conference Wednesday.

“The integrity of the Wilmington Police Department is at stake here today. As chief of police I accept that responsibility,” Evangelous said.

But Evangelous declined to release any specific information about the operation.

According to Evangelous, the undercover operation was in response to a citizen complaint about a prostitution operation involving escort services. In response to that complaint, members of the narcotics enforcement unit came up with a “unique approach” in an attempt to address the issue, Evangelous said.

After the operation was conducted, information was protected and concealed for about nine months until someone with direct knowledge of the operation came forward with the information, Evangelous said.

“The ‘code of silence’ in law enforcement is a misguided theory of how to protect the organization. We are dealing with that in this case,” Evangelous said.

An internal investigation was launched in December 2012 and ended last week. Evangelous said the investigation did not find any corruption or criminal conduct during the operation.

City officials are currently auditing the more than $2,000 in city funds that were used in the operation, Evangelous said.

“In this particular operation there was a violation of best practices in the use of alcohol,” Evangelous said.

“The use of alcohol during an undercover operation is not uncommon. Police officers conducting undercover operations must be able to fit in to their surroundings to a certain extent. But years of training in best practices in law enforcement dictate that officers should not over-indulge in alcohol for obvious reasons,” Evangelous said.

There were problems with how the operation was supervised and carried out—problems that should have been brought forward immediately, he said.

“Unfortunately, the operation was conducted poorly, and mistakes were made.”

Officer demotions, suspension

Several officers were demoted and one was suspended without pay as a result of the investigation, but Evangelous would not release any information about the officers involved, citing personnel privacy issues.

Port City Daily has made a public records request to the Wilmington Police Department for public personnel information for the entire police department.

As municipal employees, North Carolina General Statute 160A-168 provides the following information is public record:

“Name, age, date of original employment or appointment to the service; the terms of any contract by which the employee is employed, whether written or oral, past and current, to the extent that the city has the written contract or a record of the oral contract in its possession; current position; title; current salary; date and amount of each increase or decrease in salary with that municipality; date and type of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation or other change in position classification with that municipality; date and general description of the reasons for each promotion with that municipality; date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons taken by the municipality.

“If the disciplinary action was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the municipality setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal; and the office to which the employee is currently assigned.”

Department reorganization

Evangelous said the department’s reorganizational committee, under the leadership of Capt. Jim Varrone, has recommended the narcotics enforcement unit be moved to the criminal investigations division under the command of Capt. Jeff Allsbrook.

The movement of the narcotics unit was effective March 6.

In addition to the organizational change, the department will be reviewing its procedures for recruitment and training methods for sensitive operations like the narcotics team. According to Evangelous, more organizational changes are still to come.

“We are committed to excellence at the Wilmington Police Department. We will continue to do whatever it takes to maintain this vital commitment to the citizens of Wilmington,” Evangelous said.

Port City Daily will continue to follow this story. Check back for more information as it becomes available.


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