Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Southport will continue to pay Police Chief and top lieutenant after they were arrested

Southport will continue to pay Police Chief Gary Smith and Lieutenant Michael Simmons. The two were put on administrative leave, along with the entire department, after Smith and Simmons were arrested last week.

Southport Police Chief Gary Smith was arrested today after a lengthy investigation by the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy Brunswick County District Attorney's Office)
Southport Police Chief Gary Smith was arrested today after a lengthy investigation by the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy Brunswick County District Attorney’s Office)

SOUTHPORT — In the wake of an arrest of the two highest ranking police officials in the City of Southport the entire police department has been placed on paid administrative leave. But what about the two members of the Southport Police Department charged with several different crimes?

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

Chief of Police Gary Lee Smith, along with his second in command Lieutenant Michael Christian Simmons, are charged with conspiracy to obtain property through false pretenses; Smith and Simmons allegedly worked for an interstate trucking company while on the department’s clock. Essentially, they were getting paid to work while not being at work.

Now, it appears the City of Southport will continue to pay them while they are not working. On Thursday, Southport Mayor Jerry Dove announced that the entire police department would be put on administrative leave.

Today, Town Manager Bruce Oakley confirmed that will include Smith and Simmons, not just the departments other seven officers — those who were not charged with any crime. According to City Clerk Michele Windham, Smith currently makes $67,595 annually (or $2,600 bi-weekly) and Simmons current salary is $51,614 (or $1,985 bi-weekly).

Asked if the city of Southport is planning to fire Smith and Simons, Oakley said, “possibly.”

Oakley said technically, as the city’s manager, he can fire Smith and Simmons at any time without approval from Southport’s city council.

“We didn’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction,” Oakley said. “In North Carolina, it is an ‘at will state,’ you can fire without reason.”

Oakley said firing Smith and Simmons will “be discussed,” at Wednesday’s special meeting.

Until then, Oakley said, Smith and Simmons will remain on paid administrative leave, along with the rest of the department, until the DA’s office – along with the state and federal bureaus of investigation – complete their investigation.

Although District Attorney Jon David said he does not expect either man to serve jail time if convicted, he will request that both are required to surrender their badges.

What is paid administrative leave, anyway?

Paid administrative leave is not a rarity for police officers and it is often used when an investigation is conducted into police personnel – but it is not always required.

Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Emily Flax explained the sheriff’s office policy regarding administrative leave.

“In the event of a (Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office) employee arrest, BCSO has an Office of Internal Affairs/Professional Standards who, at the request of the Sheriff, would conduct an immediate internal investigation to determine if the employee violated any BCSO policy (illegal activity is a violation of policy).  Disciplinary action, to include termination, would be at the will of the Sheriff. Remember, NC is an ‘at will’ state. The Sheriff’s Office does not answer to a board or town manager, we answer to the people,” Flax said.

For the Pender County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) the policy is similar.

“If an employee is charged criminally by an outside agency, the employee will be placed on Administrative leave without pay pending a departmental review. If the employee is charged criminally by our agency, usually the employee is terminated. We have not had any deputies placed on administrative leave with pay or without pay this year,” PCSO Spokesman James Rowell said.

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