Wednesday, February 21, 2024

No comment after Oak Island re-appoints Police Chief named in federal complaint

The Town of Oak Island has appointed a man accused of raping and discriminating against a fellow policewoman as its highest-ranking law enforcement officer twice -- once, four years after a federal complaint was filed, and again last month amid a series of controversial events.

Wilburn Ingram III photographed for his employment photo when he joined the Kinston Police Department in 1974. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy City of Kinston)
Wilburn Ingram, III as pictured in his employment photo when he first joined the Kinston Police Department in 1974. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy City of Kinston)

OAK ISLAND — The Town of Oak Island has again appointed Wilburn Ingram, III as their police chief. It remains unclear if the town is aware that Ingram was at the center of a federal complaint, alleging that he sexually assault and harassed of an officer while serving as the chief of police for the town of Kinston in the 1990s.

Oak Island’s Town Council has repeatedly declined to say whether they were aware of the allegations, including a federal complaint, about Ingram. Only one councilman, Jeff Winecoff, responded to repeated inquiries about serious allegations against the town’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer.

RELATED: Documents reveal child porn crimes were committed at Oak Island mayor’s address

Ingram was brought back after years spent working at a local golf course. He was first hired as Oak Island’s police chief in 2002, four years after resigning as Kinston Police Department’s Deputy Chief amid allegations brought forth by a fellow police officer.

According to the Kinston Free Press, the Kinston policewoman filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint in 1998, months after Kinston’s City Council awarded Ingram a large severance package alongside his resignation following an internal investigation into his conduct.

According to the EEOC complaint, as reported in the Kinston Free Press, Ingram allegedly raped the policewoman in 1992 at a police conference. The female officer later had a brief relationship with Ingram and, according to her, Ingram became angered when she broke it off. Ingram then allegedly subjected her to years of racial discrimination and sexual harassment within the department, spread private information about her, and unfairly denied her of a promotion.

Ingram only recently rekindled his relationship with Oak Island. After Oak Island Mayor Cin Brochure’s son was re-arrested on charges relating to child pornography, the town’s top two law enforcement officers resigned. (These two events are completely unrelated, according to the town’s lawyer.)

To fill the police chief vacancy, the town brought in Ingram, now 71, and appointed him as police chief — again.

It is worth noting that Mayor Brochure and Ingram lived and worked in Kinston at the time of his resignation; Brochure lived in Kinston for 30 years.

Questions go unanswered

Following repeated inquiries, Oak Island Councilman Winecoff said Thursday he has not seen anything relating to the federal complaint that allegedly names Ingram.

“I have not seen anything where there are any charges. I believe a person is innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent,” Winecoff wrote in an email. “If he has been charged with a crime please let me know.”

All other councilmembers have remained silent. Calls, voicemails and emails to Mayor Brochure, mayor pro-tem Loman Scott, town manager David Kelly and others have gone unanswered. Instead, the town’s lawyer, Brian Edes, responded to questions directed to councilmembers regarding Ingram’s recent appointment as police chief.

Edes said he cannot speak for any individual councilmember. He wrote in an email the town “is not aware of the existence of any Town records” that relate to multiple questions directed to Council including: whether or not Council could acknowledge the existence of the EEOC complaint, whether Council was aware of the complaint in 2002 when Ingram was hired, or in 2018 when he was again appointed chief,  and how long Brochure and Ingram have known one another.

Edes did acknowledge Ingram’s prior employment with the Oak Island Golf Course as “common knowledge within the community.” Similar potentially common knowledge, relating to whether or not Council members have heard of allegations against Ingram, was not addressed.

(A copy of the EEOC complaint was obtained by the Kinston Free Press in 1998. Click to expand.)  

An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint was linked to Wilburn Ingram according to Kinston Free Press reporting, which was picked up by the Associated Press. The story was picked up by the Wilson Daily Times in June, 25, 1998. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Kinston Free Press)
An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint was linked to Wilburn Ingram according to Kinston Free Press reporting, which was picked up by the Associated Press. The story was picked up by the Wilson Daily Times on June 25, 1998. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Kinston Free Press)

The complaint

In response to a request for the EEOC complaint, Kimberly Smith-Brown, spokesperson for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said such filings are rarely made public.

“We are prohibited from commenting on them, furnishing any information on them, or even confirming or denying the existence of such a charge,” Smith-Brown wrote in an email.

In 1998, the Kinston Free Press obtained a copy of the complaint, based on reporting picked up by the Associated Press.

Minutes from Kinston City Council’s Jan. 20, 1998 meeting show Council entered into a closed session to discuss a “personnel matter.” Council also entered into a closed session to consult with the town’s attorney the following month, minutes show. According to employment records, Ingram abruptly resigned three days before that meeting.

According to the Kinston Free Press, the policewoman first reported allegations against Ingram to the city in 1997, but the personnel department took no action. She then submitted an internal complaint to Police Chief Michael Wightman on Dec. 1, 1997. Ingram was suspended with pay on Jan. 2, 1998, marking the beginning of an internal investigation against the deputy chief, the Kinston Free Press reported.

Ingram submitted a letter of resignation on Feb. 6, 1998, effective the same day it was submitted. The Kinston Free Press reported Council then awarded Ingram a severance package of $81,700 after serving the department for 24 years.

Kinston’s records

Tony Sears, Kinston’s current city manager, could not find any documents that relate to an internal or federal investigation on Ingram.

Between his high school transcript, resignation letter and first-year employment photo, Ingram’s file contains nothing innocuous, Sears said.

“I have his personnel file in front of me. There is no mention of any complaint nor is there any EEOC complaint in his folder,” Sears said.

Asked whether such information would be included in Ingram’s file, Sears said he is not familiar with protocol from 20 years ago.

“It would in 2018,” Sears said. “What they did in ’98, I can’t say.” 

Asked if he thought something had happened beyond a simple resignation, which would not have been particularly noteworthy, Sears said that despite Ingram’s sparse personnel file, he did.

“Do I believe something happened? Yeah, something happened,” Sears said. “I don’t know what happened.”  

While attempting to fulfill Port City Daily’s public records requests, Sears said he asked Kinston employees who were around at the time what they could remember.

“They remember something happening, but they weren’t in a senior level position back in ’98 to where they would have heard of something happening,” he said. 

He said the long-time Kinston city employees told Sears, “It was way above my pay grade.'”

Author’s note: Ingram has not yet responded to Port City Daily’s request for comment that specifically cites the allegations laid forth in this article.

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