Sunday, July 3, 2022

Timeline of Oak Island’s attempts to withhold information linking mayor to child-porn charges

Weeks of silence turned to more active efforts to prevent the release of records that, under state law, belong to the public. These efforts culminated in the town attorney's decision to redact public records --- a move he promised to defend in court.

This month, Oak Island's Mayor's son was re-arrested on charges relating to child pornography and its top two police chiefs resigned. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Town of Oak Island)
This month, Oak Island’s Mayor’s son was re-arrested on charges relating to child pornography and its top two police chiefs resigned. When reporters started asking questions, the town went silent. Then, the town took more aggressive efforts to prevent public records from being released. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Town of Oak Island)

OAK ISLAND — For the last three weeks, the town of Oak Island — including its elected officials, police department, and attorney — has resisted releasing public documents. Through a combination of silence, redirection, and obfuscation, the town prevented the release of information linking Oak Island Mayor Cynthia Brochure to the child pornography case against her son.

These efforts culminated in the attempt by the town attorney to redact information from a public document, a decision the attorney said he would defend in court.

Now that information has been released; it indicates the alleged crimes of Justin Brochure were committed at the mayor’s address.

The town, including the mayor, has still refused to comment on the potential conflict of interest inherent in the Oak Island Police Department (OIPD) investigation into a crime that occurred at the mayor’s address, or about any other aspect of the case.

What follows is a timeline of the investigation into Justin Brochure and Port City Daily’s attempt to acquire information about the case which is, under state law, public record.

Criminal behavior and investigation

Aug. 1, 2015 – The first alleged criminal activity is allegedly committed by Justin Brochure.

Feb. 22, 2017 – OIPD files its initial incident report, based on information provided by a Homeland Security agent working out of the Department’s Wilmington office.

March 18, 2017 – Shortly after OIPD files the incident report, Brochure commits his last alleged crime, according to warrants later issued for his arrest.

The arrest(s)

June 28, 2018 – Over 16 months after OIPD files an incident report on Brochure, an Oak Island detective acts as the charging officer for warrants issued for Justin Brochure’s arrest. Brochure, 36, is arrested by Leland police at his Leland residence and charged with 31 counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

Oct. 10 – Brochure is arrested for a second time on charges relating to child pornography. Warrants for his arrest show he had been in contact with a minor, a violation of his pretrial release agreement. Brochure is arrested at or near the New Hanover County Courthouse in downtown Wilmington by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, who do not disclosure any futher information about the arrest.

Oct. 12 – Calls placed on Friday afternoon to Oak Island and OIPD are not returned. That day, it is later learned, Oak Island Police Chief Greg Jordan resigns without giving a reason. Wilburn Ingram, former chief who served from 2002 -2004, is appointed as interim police chief.

Oct 15 – Calls to OIPD yield little information aside from the fact that Oak Island is investigating Justin Brochure, despite his arrest in Leland by Leland police. All further questions are forwarded to the town’s public information officer, who knows little about the case and at one point tells a reporter he had believed it was under Leland’s jurisdiction. Calls to the town’s elected officials and town manager go unanswered.

Oct. 17 – Port City Daily files its first public records request, including for public emails sent between Mayor Brochure, the town manager, and the police department, and any public email mentioning or referring to Justin Brochure. This request has not yet been fulfilled.

Oct. 17 public records request sent by Port City Daily reporter Johanna Ferebee to Oak Island. (Port City Daily photo / File)
Oct. 17 public records request sent by Port City Daily reporter Johanna Ferebee to Oak Island. (Port City Daily photo / File)

Oct. 19 – Oak Island Assistant Police Chief Tony Burke resigns. No reason is given. On Monday, Oct. 22, calls and emails to the town’s public information officer, human resources representative, and multiple OIPD officers go unanswered. Port City Daily was only able to confirm the resignation by calling and requesting to speak to Chief Burke. An OIPD officer said Burke no longer worked for the department; when asked for his name, the officer refused and abruptly hung up the phone.

Records requests

Oct. 22 – Port City Daily files its second records request, seeking public records relating to Justin Brochure’s arrest and, specifically, the OIPD incident report. Port City Daily also sends direct questions to Council about the town’s recently appointed Police Chief Wilburn Ingram.

(Click to enlarge.) Oct. 22 public records request sent by Port City Daily reporter Johanna Ferebee to Oak Island. (Port City Daily photo / File)
(Click to enlarge.) Oct. 22 public records request sent by Port City Daily reporter Johanna Ferebee to Oak Island. (Port City Daily photo / File)

Oct. 23 – Through its town attorney, Brian Edes, Oak Island responds for the first time after the mayor’s son was re-arrested. Though Edes did not (and apparently could not) comment on behalf of Council regarding the case, he did state that the recent resignations and the arrest were unrelated. Edes adds that he will “be up all night” working on the public records request.

Oct. 24 – No responses received.

Oct. 25 – Port City Daily asks for an update on the records requests. Over the next several days, emails and phone calls to the town about several issues go unanswered.

Oct. 30 Port City Daily calls Edes for an update. Edes responds to questions directed to Oak Island Council members, addresses public records requests, citing he will offer information the following day.

Oct. 31 – Port City Daily asks for an update on public records requests. Edes said the requests will be fulfilled by the end of the business day — they are not.

Legal action

Nov. 1 – Having been effectively stonewalled for weeks, Port City Daily enlists several resources in an attempt to get Oak Island to comply with North Carolina Public Records law. The following is a brief summary of those efforts:

  • Port City Daily calls and texts Edes for an update on public records, telling him the incident report is the highest priority issue.
  • Meanwhile, a records clerk at OIPD tells Port City Daily she has no access to the incident report, despite it being a public document. The request is escalated to the detective and then her superior.
  • Captain Chris Franks tells Port City Daily, when asked for the incident report, that he had already sent it to Edes with his approval (which is not legally required). An hour later, Edes had still not sent the report to Port City Daily.
  • When called again, and presented with Franks’ information, Edes tells Port City Daily he plans to redact the street number from the incident report, citing he did not want to compromise the District Attorney’s case or the rights of the accused. Edes also said that giving the street and the town suitably complied with state’s open records statute.
A public record redacted by Oak Island Brian Edes to remove the street number of the location of the crime. The redacted address is the mailing address of Oak Island Mayor Cynthia Brochure. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Oak Island)
A public record redacted by Oak Island Brian Edes to remove the street number of the location of the crime. The redacted address is the mailing address of Oak Island Mayor Cynthia Brochure. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Oak Island)
  • When asked if he has the legal right to redact a public document, Edes says he will defend his decision in court.
  • Meanwhile, Port City Daily contacts the Attorney General’s office, lodging a complaint against Edes for failing to comply with a public records request.
  • Assistant District Attorney John Minnicozzi tells Port City Daily the address listed on the incident report, citing he had been informed by OIPD that it was not the mayor’s residence.
  • After Port City Daily’s emails to and phone conversations with the Attorney General’s office and phone conversations with several people at the Brunswick County DA’s office, Edes supplies an unredacted version of the incident report.
  • Acting as spokesperson for the mayor, Edes says he will try to get a comment from Cynthia Brochure, “even if that comment is ‘no comment,'” by the following morning.

Nov. 2 – Edes, citing a busy schedule, including obligations to other towns and a legal deposition, says he is unable to provide a comment from Mayor Brochure.

The end result

It is now clear that Mayor Cynthia Brochure is linked to the child pornography charges against her son, but the extent of that link remains unknown as OIPD, the town, and the mayor have declined to comment further or at all.

One thing that appears clear: at least a significant portion of the town’s resistance to questions from Port City Daily come down to three numbers — the street number of Mayor Brochure’s mailing address, listed on the incident report.

Many questions remain, and the town has in no way broken its silence. Stay tuned for more reporting on the situation.

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