WILMINGTON — One of three former Wilmington Police Officers fired last month after unintentionally recorded conversations became public, revealing racist and violent language, has filed an appeal for reinstatement.
In a letter sent through his attorney to the Wilmington Civil Service Board on July 2, former WPD officer James B. Gilmore argued that his comments are protected by the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, claiming they were not racist but instead reflected a religious stance against idolatry. Gilmore’s letter focused on defending his own speech, and does not denounce the racist statements made by the other officers.
Gilmore also said his comments were made on matters of “public concern,” claiming that the Black Lives Matter movement, which he was discussing during the conversation, has “cost officers their lives, threatened officers with death, threatened to kill officer’s family members, to include their children.”
Based on this, Gilmore claimed he was terminated without cause.
Gilmore also pointed to the findings of a WPD internal affairs investigation that concluded that he did not violate the three personal conduct policies while sustaining that the other two officers caught on the recordings did. The investigation into the three men showed that any violation of conduct by Gilmore was unfounded.
While the conversations between the other two officers were filled with hate speech, the investigation report stated, Gilmore’s own reference to “white guys getting on their knees and chanting about worshipping blacks” — although concerning — was not enough to conclude a violation had occurred. (More of the specifics of Gilmore’s comments, below.)
While Gilmore was not responsible for the most profane and violent quotes that later made headlines, officials still found his comments unacceptable. In a termination letter sent to Gilmore on June 23, Chief Donny Williams rejected those findings, saying Gilmore’s “tone and references to people of color displays conduct other than that expected by members of this Department.”
The other two officers, Jesse E. Moore II, and Michael ‘Kevin’ Piner, represented by Elizabethtown-based attorney J. Michael McGuinness, contested the initial release of documents and secured an injunction blocking the release of further information. Both officers and their attorney will have an opportunity to weigh in during a late-July Superior Court hearing, where a judge will hear the City of Wilmington’s petition to release the actual video recordings of the conversations.
Moore and Piner, through their attorney, are expected to object to the release, but Gilmore feels differently.
Reached by phone on Friday morning, Gilmore’s attorney, Barry Henline, said his client would be “extremely confident” if the camera recordings became public.
“He would prefer that they come to light,” Henline said.
A WPD spokesperson said Chief Williams would not comment on Gilmore’s appeal letter.
“Chief Williams has already spoken about this at length and made his thoughts known, so he won’t be making any further comments on it,” she said.
The captured comments of the officers have gained widespread national attention in the weeks following the rare decision by Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams to go public with a detailed description of the footage. Such details do not typically come to light due to North Carolina public records laws preventing government agencies from publicizing personnel matters.
When discussing what he called the need for a new civil war, Officer Piner, said, “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them f—g n—s. I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait.” Moore responded that he would not do that, prompting Piner to say, “I’m ready.”
While officers Piner and Jesse Moore made overtly racist, violent threats — Piner argued for the genocide of Black Americans and Moore referred to a magistrate judge as a n—r’ who “needed a bullet in her head” — the comments made by Gilmore were considered less severe by Internal Affairs.
The video, uncovered by a sergeant conducting a video audit as part of her monthly inspection, classified as an “accidental activation,” begins with a conversation between Piner and Gilmore about the Black Lives Matters protests spreading across the country in response to recent police killings of Black Americans.
Gilmore, who had parked beside Piner’s patrol car, said the department was only concerned with “kneeling down with the black folks,” according to a report summarizing the internal investigation in explicit detail. During a May 31 protest that resulted in multiple rounds of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets fired almost entirely by deputies from the New Hanover and Brunswick Sheriff’s offices, WPD officers were applauded for kneeling with protestors.
Gilmore then said he watched a video posted on social media showing white people bowing down on their knees and “worshipping blacks.”
“How many times have I told you it’s almost like they think they’re their own god?” Gilmore asks Piner.
He then tells Piner about another video he had seen where a “fine-looking white girl and this punk little pretty boy bowing down and kissing their toes.”
Later in the conversation, when discussing the WPD’s lack of aggression during the May 31 protest, Gilmore said WPD officer Daresse Johnson, who is black, was “down there sitting on his ass.” Piner called another black officer, Michael Scott, a “piece of shit” and then said, “Let’s see how his boys take care of him when shit gets rough, see if they don’t put a bullet in his head.”
The two then ended the conversation, according to the report, when Piner responded to an alarm call.
Gilmore defends action with Bible
In the letter addressed to the Wilmington Civil Service Board, Gilmore argued that he had been terminated the prior week “without cause.” He said his recorded conversation was based upon personal religious beliefs.
“I began to discuss a matter of which I hold strong religious beliefs (Christian), that being worship of the Lord,” Gilmore wrote. “The Holy Bible teaches that no one should bow down before another human being or idol and worship them.”
Gilmore added details of the conversation with Piner that were not shown in the investigation’s report.
“I told Officer Piner, ‘I saw a video last night,'” Gilmore claimed. “I didn’t follow it much yesterday hardly. Some of these damn white dudes, dude it’s like somethin’ outta the movies (unintelligible). They’re sitting there, look, bowin’ on their knees — chanting about worshipping blacks. Now, how many times I told you it’s almost like they think they’re their own god?”
He argued that the conversation was not racially motivated but expressed his personal opinions and beliefs.
“I later stated ‘let me run up the street to these Black Lives Matter [protestors]’ which meant I would do my job as a Wilmington Police [officer],” he wrote, not clarifying what such action as an officer would entail in response to protestors.
He also claimed that his comment about Johnson was not meant to disparage the officer “because of his race, but was meant to call attention to the lack of officer safety.”
He concluded his letter with the following argument:
My entire conversation was based upon personal beliefs that I expressed to another officer based upon my religious beliefs. I did not make any comments based upon racist ideology and my comments were directed towards the Black Lives Matter movement, which has cost officers their lives, threatened officers with death, threatened to kill officer’s family members, to include their children. This movement involves members of all races and is not solely comprised of black members of society. The matters for which I commented were matters of public concern. The conversation, while on duty, was not made pursuant to my official duties, and my conversation was not directed towards any other employee of the WPD. Therefore, I believe my speech is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and my termination is without cause.