Belhaven Mayor: I’m muzzled on cop-firing case

Published 8:40 am Sunday, July 6, 2008

By Staff
Ex-officers’ lawyersays all issuesalready public
Staff Writer
Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal claimed in a press release Saturday that, because the privacy waiver they signed is too narrow, he isn’t allowed to explain why the town fired its top two police officers in March.
The officers’ attorney said that she doesn’t know of any allegations that haven’t been aired publicly.
The pairs’ statements are the latest exchange in a long-running dispute that includes a lawsuit filed against town officials by former Belhaven police Lt. Joshua Hopkins. Former Belhaven police Chief George Hayden was the other man fired.
The fired officers had signed the waiver ahead of a town hearing at which they contested their dismissal.
At that hearing, Mary-Ann Leon, the lawyer representing the pair, presented witnesses to rebut a list of allegations that included drug use, improper storage of evidence, failure to follow directives from a superior, failure to respond to calls and failure to be an active presence in the community.
Hopkins’ suit alleges that O’Neal and Guinn Leverett, the town’s interim manager, conspired to defame him so as to hurt his professional prospects, specifically that they told members of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s office Hopkins had been fired because he was seen using narcotics in his police vehicle.
But that hearing and the lawsuit have presented only some of the facts, O’Neal said, and he can’t give out the rest until the new waiver is signed.
The town has asked the pair to sign a full release in order to “allow the Town to provide additional information” or else clarify that they have only granted a partial release, O’Neal wrote.
Reached by phone, Leon said her clients had raised all the major allegations they were aware of during the hearing.
Leon said she didn’t think any allegations were omitted during the hours-long hearing. If any were, they must be “miniscule,” she said.
And Leon said that because the law that governs privacy in town personnel matters also requires full disclosure from the town to the officers, those should be all the allegations that exist.
O’Neal declined Saturday to confirm or deny the existence of other allegations, saying only that the town’s attorneys had advised him to issue the press release and to decline to comment on any allegations against the two until a full waiver has been signed.
Leon disagrees with the town’s interpretation of the first waiver, but her clients might be willing to sign a second if the town ensures full disclosure, she wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News.
And Leon questioned the timing of O’Neal’s Saturday press release and the second waiver request, which she wrote she received “late in the afternoon of July 2nd.”