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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous says what started as a response to a citizen complaint turned into an embarrassment and a mess.

Evangelous says mistakes and failures in judgement by officers during a prostitution sting last year has led to changes for his department. He says the changes were coming, but they happened officially today nearly a year after the incident he says officers tried to cover up for months.

"The code of silence in law enforcement is a misguided theory of how to protect the organization," Evangelous said during an afternoon news conference at WPD headquarters. "We are dealing with this is in this case."

Watch Chief Evangelous's full news conference

Evangelous says the code of silence lasted until December when an officer with direct knowledge of what really happened during a prostitution sting last March finally came forward. It led to an internal affairs review. The department demoted two officers and suspended another in the past month as a result, the chief said. "They embarrassed us," Evangelous said he told the officers involved. "They embarrassed the organization. They embarrassed themselves." Evangelous would not name the officers, but WPD records show the department demoted Sgt. J.P. Fitzgerald to corporal last month and transferred him from Special Operations to Patrol. He is resigning effective Friday. The department suspended Sgt. William Richards for a week last month and transferred him as well. And just last week Cpl. Andy Lazzaro was demoted to officer.

A WPD spokeswoman says until today, narcotics was part of the Special Operations Division and that all three officers were part of narcotics in March 2012. Evangelous would not give many specifics about the investigation citing personnel laws. But he did admit one officer consumed too much alcohol during the undercover sting that involved advertised escorts coming to an RV.

Police cited three women in the operation, but later voided two of the tickets. The chief would not say why. He did say a video recorder used in the operation was reported lost months later and has never been found.

In all Evangelous said there were failures in procedure and a total failure in supervision, but nothing that happened was criminal. Still, he admits what happened will take a toll on the community's faith in his department. "If I have to supervise the damn thing myself, then I will, but I'm here to tell you that it's not gonna happen again," Evangelous said. "If I can't count on my staff to take care of business for me, then I'll go out and do it myself."

Evangelous said plans to move the narcotics unit to the criminal investigation division went into effect today ahead of schedule. The chief described the supervision of the operation in question as "incompetent," but he would not say who supervised the sting. We asked the chief if he will ask City Council to use a state law allowing him to release normally protected personnel information to maintain the integrity of the department. He said he'd have to talk with the city attorney first.

Comment on this Story

  • nofaithnlaw

    Exactly! How many have they done this to.

  • Nurse

    If the lieutenant is doing all those things, internal affairs should be checking on her or maybe training and standards should make a return trip to the area to check the department. It worked for Leland.

    Recently an officer was arrested in Orlando for clocking in to work contracts but not showing up to them. He was charged with grand theft. But doing that here in Wilmington seems to be no big deal.

    Do a search for ‘Officer falsely claimed working extra hours’ and you will see how a professional department deals with internal criminals. They released all information and took criminal action.

  • Watta Joke

    The destruction of one of the recording devices and the officers voice heard on the other device stating how it needs to go away doesn’t have anything to do with this issue? Not only is that obstruction of justice, it is also destruction of city property. The deception that was shown when the polygraph was administered to that same officer has nothing to do with this issue?

    The lieutenant that doesn’t follow policy and protocols, is accused of creating a hostile work environment, she has admitted in court to cutting tires, firing her duty weapon at another officer while both were on-duty and in full uniform, she allegedly stabbed her husband and then claimed it was because he startled her, the former sergeant that falsified his time card and is still on the force all have to do with this issue. The issue is officers that break not only policy but commit crimes and are allowed to continue to work.

    If you shot at one of your co-workers, do you think you would just get a suspension or do you think you would be charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill? If you willfully destroyed company property, would the company allow you to stay there or could there be a vandalism charge? If you clocked in but didn’t actually work, would your company keep you on the payroll or might you get charged with either theft by employee or embezzlement? But since they are officers, it seems a different set of rules apply to them.

  • Guest 0000

    Ok, “watta”, you’re obviously very, very familiar with the inner workings. All of your complaints have nothing to do with this issue though.
    E gave a pretty clear focus as to what he’s doing, and going to do. From his briefing, the issue was hidden for so many months, a supervisor found out about it (I call BS on that one), and informed the proper channels, therefore E. He explained that he was made aware in Dec, conducted an investigation, INFORMED THE MEDIA, and even though NO LAWS WERE BROKEN, punished those whose performance wasn’t correct.

    Pretty simple. There is no hidden society, no good old boy crud, just a problem resolved, WITH THE PUBLIC INFORMED.

    This is crazy, give the guy a chance to run his department and correct an issue. He’s doing a good, open job of it so far, nothing hidden.

  • Lewis

    I would not have wasted my time demoting people they would have the choice of being fired or putting in their resignation papers effective immediately. When you were the badge and take that oath, it’s that oath that says something. When you have breached the trust of the people you have sworn to serve and protect then it’s truly time for you to choose another line of work. The supervisor of the department wouldn’t been given a choice she would have been terminated because how can you call yourself a supervisor when you didn’t know what was going on in your own department. That says a lot about your management skills. Then to cover your backside you go to Internal Affairs as if you had nothing to do with it. Your Division, your mess. Apparently the chief must have promoted someone and put them in a position of leadership that they weren’t ready to accept. This is truly a blackeye for the WPD.

  • Whatisthetruth

    This is far from over. Evangelous danced around the facts. That much $$ spent on a hooker operation? The Lt didn’t realize that for 9 months? WPD is tainted. Watch the truth continue to come out and the tangled web unravel. The media is smelling blood evident by the questions asked at the press conference. Well at least most of them. One silly reporter asking the Chief if he could turn off the cameras and speak privately would he say something different? What a Putz. Heist have been planted by the WPD to ask soft questions. Don’t know who he was or what tv station he worked for, but his love fest was a joke.

  • KoolMoeDee

    How many innocent people are now either convicted and/or incarcerated because of the “code of silence” ? One? One Hundred?

    No one will ever know. Why? To tell would violate the “code of silence”.

  • Wilmington Observer

    I have the upmost respect and admiration for Chief Evangelous and the manner in which he leads the WPD. He seems to be a soft spoken, highly educated man with high moral convictions. Though I do not work for him, I have learned, from those who do, he has high expectations for his officers and is quick to recognize those officers who, consistently, preform as expected. When unfortunate situations, such as this, arise he seems to be just as fair and just in his actions. The head of any law enforcement agency will certainly never be able to lead without some segment of society being unhappy. Chief Evangelous dealt with this issue in a manner which will prevent future repetition. The agency, and the public which it serves, can continue on knowing that the best man, for the job, is keeping watch over those sworn to keep watch over us.

    Wilmington Observer

  • SurfCityTom

    Chuck Norris do a movie “Code of Silence”? Maybe they could do a sequel in Wilmington. Set it up properly, there would be all of the tax incentives as well as EB-5 foriegn investor money.

  • Watta Joke

    Now that this info is starting to come to light, maybe chief will answer about the deception shown on the polygraph by one of the officers when he was asked about the missing recorder. Maybe chief will also answer why the officers voice is heard on the other recorder talking about how the other one needed to go away.

    Maybe chief will answer why the Lt. in charge of training/hiring currently has a complaint filed against her for creating a hostile work environment. The sergeant that was in that office filed a complaint and he was put out on patrol.

    Maybe chief will answer why that same Lt. disregarded protocol when an applicant is found to be untruthful and is not recommended to be hired by the interview board, yet the same Lt. set up a different board because the applicant was a friend of hers.

    Maybe chief will answer why that same Lt. was allowed to practice age discrimination when an officer requested to go to a school and she told him he was to old to attend when there is no age limit on the class.

    Maybe chief will answer about the former sergeant that was caught falsifying his time card was only demoted yet allowed to stay on the force after committing not only a policy violation but a crime.

    Maybe chief will answer about the former employees that were caught tipping off drug dealers about pending search warrants.

    Do a google search on the phrase “Wilmington Police probe officers affair” and look for the scanned newspaper to get the name of the female officer that is now a Lt.

  • Guest1948

    The WPD has always been a “good ol’ boy” fraternity for as long as I can remember. ‘Code of Silence’ is an apt title for this article. I had hoped Chief Evangelous would clean up the department and it appears he has done a good job so far. Lets give him a change to rectify what has been uncovered and set forth new policies.

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