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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.

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37 Comments on "Chief: Code of silence led to mess, embarrassment for WPD"

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2016 years 2 months ago

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… Read more »

Watta Joke
2016 years 2 months ago

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… Read more »

Guest 0000
2016 years 2 months ago

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… Read more »

2016 years 2 months ago

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… Read more »

2016 years 2 months ago

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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