Mayor accused of harassing police officers

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SHARPSBURG — A law enforcement group has accused Mayor Robert L. Williams of lashing out at town police with racial slurs and rude hand gestures on the heels of his drunken driving arrest.

The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association says Williams’ behavior and his bid to strip Commissioner Randall Collie of police department oversight “reek of personal bias and retaliation.”

State PBA Executive Director John Midgette wrote a June 7 letter to the mayor and commissioners claiming “a pattern and practice of inappropriate conduct by the mayor toward the town’s police officers to include racially charged insults and inappropriate hand gestures directed at officers.”

Commissioner Becky Humphrey briefly mentioned the letter during a Tuesday afternoon emergency meeting of the Sharpsburg Board of Commissioners that she and Commissioner Mary Jackson called to address the PBA’s complaint and unilateral actions Williams sought to take immediately after his swearing-in on June 5.

With Humphrey, Jackson and Collie in attendance and Williams, Commissioner David Pride and Commissioner Beverly Davis absent, the board lacked a quorum and could not take formal action.

Williams was in the commissioners’ chambers but did not take his seat at the board table or answer a roll call. Standing in the back of the room, he briefly addressed commissioners.

“I have asked for this meeting to be delayed because I don’t have appropriate representation,” Williams said. He claimed Town Attorney Brian Pridgen would not return his phone calls, which Pridgen denied, saying he had called the mayor.

Williams implied he would not participate in the meeting so the board would not have a quorum and proceedings could be postponed.

“When my counsel gets this communication along with the town clerk, we will deal with this action because it’s all racially motivated, even with the police officers, and that’s all I have to say,” Williams said. “Have a good evening.”

With those words, the mayor left the room, followed by several audience members. A phone message left for Williams was not returned in time for this story.

Midgette and Raleigh attorney Mikael R. Gross were in attendance representing the Police Benevolent Association. Midgette said after the meeting that Williams has been “using the proverbial middle finger.”

“He’s been coming up to officers and doing that unannounced and in front of others,” Midgette said.

The state PBA director said Williams has confronted Sharpsburg officers who had arrested him on driving while impaired and related charges less than an hour after the polls closed in the May 8 special election he went on to win by seven votes.

“This weekend he was observed following officers, and he’s been making comments that are very close to intimidation of witnesses, which is a Class G felony in North Carolina,” Midgette said. “We’re concerned that if it keeps up, it’s just going to continue getting worse.”

Moments after taking office June 5, Williams stunned the town board by announcing that Humphrey would no longer serve as mayor pro tempore and he was appointing Commissioner David Pride to the role. He also told Collie he’d no longer be the police commissioner and said he was giving Police Chief John Hunt “complete control” of the department.

It was unclear whether either action is binding, and commissioners appeared poised to rein in the mayor Tuesday. A “resolution establishing the powers of the mayor and commissioners of the town of Sharpsburg” and “Discussion of action taken to remove the mayor pro-tem and the police commissioner” were listed as agenda items but were not discussed due to the lack of a quorum.

The Police Benevolent Association letter states that Williams “violated proper procedure and process by removing Councilman (sic) Randall Collie as the town’s police commissioner and appointing the police chief to the police commissioner position.”

“Any action to set aside existing law and authority that supersedes local authority or law is not only patently absurd, but clearly unlawful,” Midgette wrote.

The N.C. Police Benevolent Association provides advocacy and legal assistance for member law enforcement officers but does not have the collective bargaining power of a labor union.

“We respectfully request you move to correct these matters immediately,” Midgette wrote to Sharpsburg elected officials. “We would welcome the opportunity to work with you to resolve the matters amicably rather than exploring other measures available to us.”