Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Latest Update: Sheriff takes over in Southport after police chief arrested, department ‘functionally closed’

Southport Police Department's Police Chief and second-in-command were arrested after a lengthy SBI and FBI investigation. Gary Smith and Lt. Michael Christian Simmons have been accused of leaving their department unsupervised for months as the two operated a second job while on the police department's dime.

District Attorney Jon David (left) and Kevin Tabron, the State Bureau of Investigation’s special agent in charge, announce the temporary closure of the Southport Police Department following a lengthy investigation, conducted by the FBI and SBI. Police Chief Gary Smith and his second-in-command, Lt. Michael Christian Simmons, have been arrested after allegedly operating a trucking business while clocked in at the Southport Police Department. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

Police Chief Gary Smith and second-in-command Lt. Michael Christian Simmons have been charged with conspiracy to obtain property through false pretenses, willful failure to discharge duties, and obstruction of justice. Both Smith and Simmons were arrested Thursday.

RELATED: LIVE VIDEO: Southport Police Chief arrested, entire police department put on leave

The Southport Police Department services have been suspended until further notice. The department has 11 officers, including Smith and Simmons; the remaining nine have been placed on paid leave.

Unsupervised and unmanned for months

For months, Southport Police Department services – both on the street and administratively – were unsupervised during Simmons and Smith’s apparent scheme.

Accused of corruption and working second jobs while on duty with the Southport Police Department, Simmons and Smith were operating a local trucking company.

The trucking company made regular trips across state lines as Simmons and Smith were being paid for their policing duties, according to District Attorney Jon David. He said this has become a habitual and repeated pattern of going off and working another job while being clocked in for shifts with the police department.

Sparked by internal complaints from multiple officers within the department, the investigation has been underway since at least April.

The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office will be taking over policing Southport in the interim, David said, although it is not yet known how long the Sheriff’s Office will be taking over policing Southport.

“There is no script for these types of things … The sheriff has pledged to me and the town that he will be there as long as the situation requires,” David said.

The suspension of all police services in the town is necessary since both leaders of the department have been or will be arrested, he added.

“What do you do when your boss is the one making the mistake?” David asked, following the press conference. “Who guards the guardian?” 

David said he sent an email on April 4, directing the SBI and FBI to investigate the case.

Aside from officers who raised concerns about their Police Chief, Southport leaders were unaware of any investigation until Thursday’s arrests.

As the investigation was being conducted, David said Brunswick County Sheriff’s Department did not step in to make up for Southport’s limited manpower.

“The joint investigation revealed Smith and Simmons were reporting for work at a local trucking company where they were completing overnight shifts during the same hours they had claimed on their daily activity reports to be working at the Southport Police Department,” an SBI press release states. “Multiple search warrants were conducted today at the police department, town hall and the trucking company.”

Possible convictions

Both Smith and Simmons do not have a criminal background, according to David. Based on the given charges, he does not believe either are eligible for any type of incarceration.

“You’re not looking at any active jail time under the sentencing guidelines for these offenses,” David said. “It’s going to be more in the nature of probation, with a fine, community service hours, things of that sort.”

Though he said Simmons and Smith are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, David will plea that both will be ordered to surrender their badges.

As the two officers left Southport Police Department essentially unsupervised, David said they will be held accountable for what the law allows.

“I have my own personal thoughts on what’s enough, but I think that’s what the sentencing guidelines mandate,” he said.

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