WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Three Wilmington Police officers have been fired in the wake of racist and threatening comments caught on tape.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief Donny Williams announced Michael K. Piner, Jesse E. Moore II and James B. Gilmore were terminated Tuesday.
“This is the most exceptional and difficult case I have encountered in my career,” Williams said.
Williams, who made the announcement on his first official day as Chief, says the three now-former officers were caught using racial slurs, offensive comments, or threats of violence.
During a monthly video audit on June 4, police say they came across a two-hour long video from Piner’s car camera that was classified as “accidental activation”. During that time, they say Piner was heard making derogatory comments about African Americans and recent protests.
Police say the video goes on to record Piner and Gilmore discussing protests in Wilmington. Piner is heard making offensive comments about other officers, and discussing their handling of recent protests.
Later on in the video recording, Piner is heard talking to Moore on the phone, where Moore is heard reportedly using racial slurs, including n-word, and making racially charged comments about African Americans, including a magistrate.
As the conversation continues, police say Piner made a number of racially violent comments and also used racial slurs, including n-word.
Both Moore and Piner also criticized the handling of recent downtown protests, making derogatory comments about Chief Williams.
Williams says their conversations were brutally offensive. He says there is no place for this behavior in his agency, but he doesn’t want people to judge their officers based on the conduct of a few.
“Morale just hasn’t been at its best,” he said. “Some officers may feel that they’re not liked right now. But I will say this – resilience. They continue to come to work. They work long hours, and they do what we ask them to do. As I said earlier, we have some great officers. My biggest fear with all of this is the good will all be painted with the same brush that the bad will be painted with.”
Wilmington Police say Moore, Piner and Gilmore were each interviewed individually on June 9. They say each now-former officer admitted it was their voice on the recording, and did not deny any of the comments made in the video.
The men reportedly went on to say the stress of today’s climate in law enforcement was a reason for their “venting”, and each of them denied being racist.
Moore wanted it on record that he was off duty, at his own house and on his own phone when he spoke to Piner over the phone. Police say Moore added, he’s not racist and was venting, and that call combined with recent protests had him extremely stressed and embarrassed about the things he said in the video.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Bill Saffo said City Council voted unanimously to release the personnel files for all three men, which he says is usually kept private.
“I was sickened by the violent and destructive language used by these officers,” Saffo said. “It was absolutely despicable. we believe that it was a matter that needed our urgent attention, and in an effort to support transparency and increase the level of trust in our community, we agreed unanimously to release the information that has been shared with all of you today.
New Hanover county’s NAACP President Deborah Maxwell made it clear she’s satisfied with the department’s handling of the situation.
“Remember they did this,” Maxwell said. “Not anyone else. It was an internal cam on a car. It wasn’t Deborah the citizen who calling them. So then we must commend them for taking care of their own business which took care of us.”
Police say they’re determining whether the car camera footage can be legally released, and say they will petition a judge in order to get it released.
The former officers will be banned from working for the city ever again, and Wilmington Police will talk with the District Attorney to investigate whether any prior discrimination could have occurred during their careers.
According to their personnel files, all three men have worked for the department for more than 20 years.
Williams says he will be meeting with every current officer individually in July, and they will undergo implicit bias training. He adds he wants to incorporate citizens in their hiring process, and even into their policing process when possible.
Click here to view the full statement from Chief Donny Williams, including his plan moving forward.
Publicly released unredacted documents can be viewed below. WARNING, extremely graphic content.
Click here to view the documents.