The city of Roanoke Rapids, its police department and former chief, as well as the district attorney are being sued by a city police officer to recover damages against the defendants for attempts to fire him and revoke his certification.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of Daniel W. Jenkins, who is currently a lieutenant with the Roanoke Rapids Police Department.
The suit names the city, the police department, former Chief Chuck Hasty in his individual and official capacity; and District Attorney Valerie Asbell.
The officer is asking for damages of $250,000 and any other relief the court deems proper either individually, jointly or in the alternative together with interest, cost of the lawsuit and reasonable attorney fees.
According to a minute entry filed Tuesday in the federal court record, the case is selected for mediation.
Jenkins claims the action is to recover damages against the defendants for civil conspiracy; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and the violation of the right of procedural due process of the United States Constitution.
Roanoke Rapids City Attorney Geoffrey Davis said Tuesday he had no comment. Hasty also declined comment.
In a statement today Asbell said she could not comment on pending litigation. She said she is being represented by the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office in the matter.
Basis of the complaint
The heart of the lawsuit goes back to July 28 of 2018 when Jenkins was employed as a canine handler with the department and was called to the scene where a person was stopped for a tail light violation. The driver had a pistol which was within his immediate reach.
Jenkins was called to the scene when the driver asked for a supervisor. “Both he and the officer who made the traffic stop, after several times of demanding the person exit the vehicle, attempted to remove the individual.
“After several attempts of the officers, there was (a) decision made to employ the use of a K-9 dog. Plaintiff is a certified and trained officer with many years of experience in the field and was fully knowledgeable about the standards of release. After assessing the situation, plaintiff released his K-9 and the driver was removed from the vehicle.”
The dog bit the driver’s ear causing minor injury.
The next day Hasty had an officer review the matter for excessive use of force. “In the opinion of the officer, (the) plaintiff’s actions showed no wrongdoing. The chief of the Roanoke Rapids Police Department was known to have a poor relationship with (the) plaintiff, and it was well known that the chief of the Roanoke Rapids Police Department had wanted to fire (the) plaintiff for some time.”
The lawsuit claims Hasty chose to ignore the finding and complete a second review. “Without explanation of why the Roanoke Rapids Police Department could not perform the investigation, it was handed off to another police department whose right to investigate was questionable.
“The investigation was done by the Rocky Mount Police Department and no reason was given. The chief of the Roanoke Rapids Police Department and the chief of Rocky Mount Police Department had a reputation for being ‘buddies.’”
The investigator from the Rocky Mount Police Department reported the plaintiff used excessive force. “On that same day (Hasty) recommended the city manager fire (the) plaintiff and when he did not, (Hasty) attempted to have (the) plaintiff criminally charged.”
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation probed the matter and presented a confidential report to the DA. A presentation to a grand jury failed to return a true bill of indictment, the lawsuit said.
Hasty reported Jenkins to two training and certification standards committees along with a letter from the DA which, according to the lawsuit, said in part Jenkins was a threat to the community. Neither body found that Jenkins deploying the dog constituted excessive use of force.
This lawsuit is based on what is claimed to be the rampant disregard of policies put in place so law enforcement officers can be investigated fairly, without interference or in violation of their constitutional rights.
It is also based on what is termed a conspiracy between Asbell and Hasty “to attempt to press criminal charges against (the) plaintiff, only after (Hasty) was unable to fire (the) plaintiff including the drafting of a letter by (Asbell) to the city manager of Roanoke Rapids, after a failure of getting a true bill of indictment, whose content stated that plaintiff was a danger to the community.”
It is also based on the submission of the letter to two training and standards commissions unsolicited. “For over 18 months, (Hasty) attempted all measures available to him to terminate (the) plaintiff in a biased, (vindictive) and retaliatory manner, in an act of bad faith.”
Jenkins, who was promoted to a Roanoke Rapids police lieutenant in July, said he was signed to a squad with a former lieutenant who the lawsuit describes as aggressive and “had a reputation in the police force for being abusive, untrustworthy, arrogant,” and considered he could do no wrong.
When Jenkins asked for a transfer, the lawsuit claims Hasty shouted at him and said, “‘I’m not listening to this … I tell you what, I’ll just fire you both.’”
Hasty, the lawsuit says, had to answer to City Manager Joseph Scherer, who has firing authority.
Jenkins alleges in the lawsuit he was told by a patrol captain that Hasty repeatedly said he would fire Jenkins.
On July 30 of 2018 another former officer conducted a traffic stop for a lighting violation.
The driver informed the officer he had a firearm on the dashboard. The officer reportedly told the driver he would be charged if he didn’t present his driver’s license.
The driver requested a supervisor and Jenkins arrived.
After several minutes of demanding the driver step out of the vehicle, both officers attempted to remove him.
The firearm, according to the lawsuit, was within immediate grasp. “(The) plaintiff through his training immediately recognized that this situation was dangerous to the safety and/or lives of (the) plaintiff and (the former officer).”
Jenkins then released his dog on the driver. The dog bit the driver, who was arrested without trouble, on the ear. The driver required treatment for what is called in the document a minor injury. Hasty took the dog out of service that night.
Hasty then asked for a former captain to investigate whether excessive force was used. The former captain found no violation of excessive force. “Hasty would not accept (the former captain’s) finding of no wrongdoing … and ordered a second investigation. Upon information and belief, Hasty with malice and forethought wanted to find a reason to fire (Jenkins). No document of what was being investigated, as required by procedure, was given to (Jenkins). It was Hasty’s duty to interview (Jenkins) and he failed to do so.”
On August 8 of 2018 an internal affairs investigation by the Rocky Mount Police Department was launched to determine whether Jenkins used excessive force in deploying the dog. “According to (the police department’s) policy on internal investigations, the chief, at his own discretion, may delegate the authority to conduct the investigation to other personnel. When those words are read in the totality of the policy for RRPD internal investigations, ‘other personnel’ would mean other RRPD public officers, its public officials and employees other than the field supervision.
“With knowledge and belief, Hasty did not execute a written document explaining his ‘best interest of the department.’ Upon information and belief, there was no written agreement formally designating the Rocky Mount Police Department to conduct an internal affairs investigation.”
The driver of the vehicle in the second stop refused to take part in any investigation of possible use of excessive force and no complaint was filed against Jenkins. “Upon information and belief, there was no written agreement to protect information obtained in the investigation.”
The lawsuit maintains Hasty and the Rocky Mount police chief “had a reputation for being close friends. Upon information and belief, the choice of Rocky Mount was made for this investigation based on the personal relationship between the Rocky Mount police upper echelon and Hasty. (The) plaintiff had already been cleared of wrongdoing once.”
As the Rocky Mount investigation was launched, the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association wrote a letter which said, in part, “It appears (the plaintiff’s) personnel information was shared with the (Rocky) Mount Police Department without authorization of our member. This appears to be in violation of the North Carolina privacy law. It appears the personnel information was released improperly. It also appears the associated video and audio recordings were released in violation of (general statute).
“The Rocky (Mount) Police Department has no material interest in any video or audio recording dealing with (the plaintiff) and is not an authorized party to receive recordings outside the approval of a superior court judge pursuant to a properly filed petition and disclosure hearing.”
The PBA letter continues, saying, “Also very concerning to the PBA is the detainment of (the plaintiff) by the Rocky Mount Police Department under the pretext of an internal affairs investigation authorized (by) the Roanoke Rapids Police Department. (The plaintiff) was asked to be at the interrogation at 10 a.m. (The plaintiff) was not seen until 1 p.m. and then interrogated for four hours.
“This type of interrogation to an employee by an agency … appears to be a violation of (the plaintiff’s) United States and Constitutional Rights as well as (statutory) rights related to personal record privacy.”
The Rocky Mount Police Department found the actions by Jenkins were not justified. “Throughout this process, (the city), RRPD, though its agents, Hasty and Scherer did not follow official policies. Hasty, without authorization and contrary to the city policy, attempted to terminate (Jenkins). Only Scherer has the authority to fire (the plaintiff).”
The lawsuit says Scherer initially wrote a termination letter which was revoked. Jenkins received a reduction in pay and rank and was removed from the canine squad.
Hasty, according to the lawsuit, filed separation paperwork to training and standards and filed a separation form that Jenkins was being investigated for criminal activity and that he violated criminal justice standards. It was not found Jenkins violated those standards.
The act did suspend Jenkins’ certification until a probable cause hearing could be held.
Return to work
With Scherer purportedly not agreeing with Hasty, Jenkins reported to work in the office while waiting for his certification to be reinstated. “(The plaintiff) arrived as directed and within 15 minutes of his arrival, Hasty gave (Jenkins) a memorandum stating (he) was now subject to a criminal investigation, with knowledge of Asbell, by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Hasty told (Jenkins) to leave the RRPD until the investigation was completed.”
The investigation took months.
After several more weeks, the lawsuit says, Jenkins found out from outside sources the materials and SBI findings were presented to the grand jury by the DA’s office. They involved the same allegations of which Jenkins had previously been cleared and no indictment was returned.
“Despite the findings of the grand jury, Asbell wrote a letter to Scherer stating that (Jenkins) was a potential threat to the community,” the document says. “After Scherer received the letter from the DA, (Jenkins) was notified by certified mail that (he) was terminated effective immediately.”
Jenkins appealed the termination and included previous findings of no wrongdoing and the violation of double jeopardy. “(Jenkins) could not be punished twice for the same event and no change in facts. Scherer reversed his own letter of termination for a second time. Scherer admitted in his reversal letter that his decision to terminate was incorrect and his previous decision to demote stands.
“Upon all information and belief, (Jenkins) could not return to work because Hasty
maliciously, and untruthfully, filed a separation form to the Criminal Justice Education Training and Standards Commissions.
“(Jenkins) attended a probable cause hearing before (the) Criminal Justice Education Training and Standards Commissions and the CJ investigator read the same letter that Asbell had written to Scherer, again stating that (Jenkins) was a potential threat to the community.”
After approximately 10 minutes, the commission called Jenkins back before the board and informed him they found no probable cause or wrongdoing. Jenkins was cleared of all allegations.
Another hearing before the North Carolina Sheriff’s Education Training and Standards Commission also found no wrongdoing.
Jenkins was then sworn in as a deputy with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office.
In the first claim for relief Jenkins claims a violation of constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment.
In his second claim for relief, Jenkins charges a civil conspiracy between Hasty and Asbell. “Hasty had a well-known reputation of a mercurial personality and getting his own way. It was well known amongst the RRPD and (the city of Roanoke Rapids) that Hasty did not like (Jenkins). This ire was repeatedly released on (Jenkins) whenever (he) correctly pointed out policies and procedures which contradicted the orders given by Hasty.”
Asbell and Hasty, the lawsuit claims, conspired to perform actions to get Jenkins, at the very least, fired.
In a last attempt to fire Jenkins, Hasty turned Jenkins in to training and standards and Asbell sent her letter to the commissions to be read into the record. “These actions taken as whole at the very least provide clear suspicion that a civil conspiracy occurred. (Jenkins) suffered pecuniary losses while these additional investigations went on for several months. (Jenkins) ultimately lost rank, salary, and benefits. Plaintiff suffered extensive marital problems, including loss of consortium.”
In the third claim for relief Jenkins claims intentional infliction of emotional distress by all defendants. “In all information and belief, the acts of the individuals, Hasty and Asbell, were performed intentionally and purposefully to cause (Jenkins) emotional distress and injury.”
The defendants, according to lawsuit, “acted with reckless disregard with a high probability that emotional distress would result from their conduct. (The defendants’) conduct was extreme, outrageous and went beyond all possible bounds of decency and are regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community. As a direct and proximate result … (Jenkins) suffered genuine and substantial emotional distress and injury.”
In the fourth claim for relief the lawsuit claims negligent infliction of emotional distress by all the defendants.