Former Belhaven cops return to refute firings

Published 7:03 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

By Staff
Hopkins files suit
in Superior Court
Staff Writer
BELHAVEN — Two fired Belhaven police officers got a chance to contest their terminations at a public name-clearing hearing Friday.
Former Belhaven Police Chief George Hayden and former police Lt. Joshua Hopkins were fired by the town May 20. The decision to terminate the town’s two top cops was made by interim Town Manager Guinn Leverett based on allegations of misconduct. Hayden and Hopkins waived their right to privacy, allowing the public and the press to sit in while they pleaded their case.
A small crowd showed up to Town Hall to witness the hearing, where Leverett, Belhaven Town Attorney Bud Cockrell and two other attorneys representing the town faced Hayden, Hopkins and their attorney, Mary-Ann Leon.
Though Leverett and Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal appear as co-defendants in a civil suit filed by Hopkins in Beaufort County Superior Court on Friday, neither O’Neal nor any member of the Belhaven Town Council was present at the hearing.
The town’s attorneys supplied Hopkins and Hayden with a list of allegations by two former police officers — Titus Wilson and Jerry Cobb. Wilson worked for the town for about six months in 2006. Cobb was a reserve lieutenant with the department before Hopkins took the position full time.
The list of allegations against Hopkins include claims that he did not adhere to department procedure when securing narcotics seized or bought from suspects and that he may have been under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at times when working for the police department. He is also accused of “disappearing” for hours and being unreachable by radio or phone, according to Leon.
Hopkins was the last witness to testify. Leon asked him if each of the allegations against him were true. Hopkins refuted each.
Hopkins said he kept evidence in a locked drawer in his desk to protect the identity of confidential informants whose safety could be jeopardized by leaked information.
He had more to say about the allegation that he had been using drugs while on the police force. Hopkins testified he had volunteered to submit to a drug test but had never been contacted by town staff to take the test.
Leon told Hopkins one of the claims made by Wilson was that his eyes often appeared red — a sign he was under the influence of drugs.
The primary allegation against Hayden is that he refused to follow directives given him by Leverett. He is also accused of failing to respond to calls and failing to practice community policing.
Both Hayden and Hopkins are accused of unfairly or unevenly enforcing the law.
Leon called six witnesses to testify on behalf of Hayden and Hopkins. Four are former Belhaven police officers. Another, Joe Smith, had worked for the department for 11 years prior to being rehired last week. The sixth was a nine-year veteran dispatcher who worked with both Hayden and Hopkins.
Smith, one of two officers currently employed by the town, took the stand first. Smith was followed by Jeremy Andrews, a deputy with the Hyde County Sheriff’s Department who worked as an officer in Belhaven from 2001 to March 2008. Jason Cleary, Wesley Waters, Ervin Elks and Lew Hellickson, all former Belhaven police officers, followed.
Each testified that they had worked closely with both Hayden and Hopkins. When asked, each refuted the allegations against their former colleagues.
Smith said he was involved with “most of the narcotics investigations the town was involved in” from 2007 until 2008. He testified that during the time Hopkins was in charge of narcotics investigations, their operations were never questioned by their superiors and that he never observed Hopkins behaving unethically.
After a break for lunch, Hayden took the stand. Leon asked Hayden to recount his law-enforcement career since he began working for the Cape Carteret Police Department in 1985, then she ran through the allegations against him.
Hayden’s supposed insubordination stemmed from a confrontation with Leverett concerning the issuance of citations for cars parked in front of driveways, he testified. Hayden said Leverett told him not to issue tickets for cars parked in front of a specific driveway in town, a directive he cleared with the Attorney General’s office. Leverett took that move as insubordination, Hayden testified.
Asked to comment on Friday’s testimony, Leverett declined, citing confidentiality under statutes governing personnel matters.