A Raleigh lawyer said he is planning to appeal a decision by Fayetteville’s Ethics Commission to dismiss all eight complaints that it heard against Police Chief Gina Hawkins last month.
The lawyer, Mikael Gross, said Wednesday he will ask Cumberland County Superior Court for permission to appeal the decision once the Ethics Commission provides him with written documentation from the case.
The Ethics Commission on Feb. 8 officially dismissed all eight complaints that police employees had made against Hawkins. The commission had verbally agreed to dismiss the complaints on Jan. 13.
After making its decision official, the commission’s lawyer, Bob Cogswell, released a one-sentence statement by email: “The Ethics Commission concluded, on Jan. 13, 2022, that the complaint, based on the evidence presented on all of the allegations against Chief Hawkins, is dismissed.”
Gross argues that the statement did not adhere to the city’s code, which requires the commission to provide “findings of fact and conclusions of law and be delivered to the parties in writing.”
Gross sent a letter early Wednesday to Cogswell and James Harrison, the lawyer for Hawkins, announcing his intentions to file an appeal and his objections to what he called a lack of findings that the commission was supposed to have provided him.
“The opinion sent to me did not include any findings of fact or conclusions of law, just a generic dismissal, without any justification other than your email,” Gross wrote to Cogswell and Harrison.
Gross said in the letter that he plans to move forward with his appeal as soon as he gets a copy of the certified order and judgment from the Ethics Commission, “and a copy of the entire record to include the portions of the record created in the closed session.”
Gross said he needs the documents in order to file a writ of certiorari with the court asking for permission to file an appeal. If permission is granted, he said, the court would decide whether the law was complied with and whether the burden of proof was met. The court could then send the case back to the Ethics Commission for a rehearing, or the judge could enter a decision upholding or overturning the commission’s decision.
CityView TODAY has requested the minutes of the closed session but was initially told by a city spokeswoman that they were not public record because they include personnel matters. But later, on Feb. 10, Cogswell wrote that the minutes would be provided after corrections were made.
Cogswell said Wednesday that he could not comment on pending litigation, but he said he hoped to have the minutes available Wednesday night.
The Ethics Commission met over three consecutive nights in January, mostly in closed session, before announcing that it would dismiss all eight complaints against Hawkins. Gross had submitted 14 complaints, but the commission agreed to hear only eight of them.
Hawkins has denied all of the allegations. Shortly after the Ethics Commission announced its decision to dismiss them on Jan. 13, Hawkins left City Hall and spoke briefly to CityView TODAY.
The police chief said Gross “did not provide one piece of evidence” that was factual.
“He has absolutely impacted my reputation,” Hawkins said. “It’s not my reputation, it’s the community’s reputation. He presented nothing but lies.”
The allegations by police employees include:
Among the evidence Gross said he presented during the Ethics Commission’s hearings were photos of a police officer kneeling on the floor with a dog leash around his neck and an emaciated patrol dog.
Former Fayetteville police Officer Dianne Bettis was interviewed after she left the second night of hearings.
Bettis, now a sergeant with the Hoke County Sheriff’s Department, said she testified that she was removed from the police K-9 unit because she and another dog handler refused to “starve our dogs,” which she said would have been the result had they followed the K-9 trainer’s orders.
Bettis also said the trainer told members of the unit to wear leashes around their necks as part of the training so they would understand how the dogs felt.
Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.