How the prosecutor uses a secret list to discredit three WPD officials fired for racist language
In recent weeks, the New Hanover District Attorney's Giglio Committee has reviewed 89 pending criminal cases, home affairs files, and the cruiser video, in which three officers from the Wilmington Police Department made racist comments.
The three-member committee, made up of high-ranking prosecutors, decided to give each officer a "death letter" that would permanently prevent him from testifying before the DA's courts.
James Gilmore, Jesse Moore, and Kevin Piner were released after a video of Piner's vehicle showed officials making racist comments against black residents, black chief Donny Williams, a black colleague, and a black judge.
"I think we all agree that there is currently nothing more important in this district than ensuring that it is handled properly," said New Hanover District Attorney Ben David.
As StarNews reported, these efforts resulted in the closure of 70 pending criminal cases – all of whom had one of the dismissed officers as one of the main suspects – because the prosecutor's office had completely lost confidence in their ability to testify in court.
Most of the pending cases were offenses or traffic offenses, although there were some offenses.
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Giglio Brady standards, according to which prosecutors have to provide exonerating evidence for defense, have existed since court rulings in the 1970s, but were not formalized in a committee in the DA office until 2013.
Since then, the committee has kept a confidential list of officials whose professional conduct has affected their ability to testify in court. North Carolina's personnel laws prevent the list from being published.
According to David, the list is two-tier. A simple "nuisance" could mean as little misconduct as using an off-duty police cruiser while a death letter prohibits an officer from testifying in court.
However, the range of people qualified for impairment is broad and largely at the discretion of the Giglio Committee of the DA.
"With the three officers here, I believe that if we definitely put them on the stand with a ticket, the trial will be more about them and their credibility than anything the accused has done," said David.
David said it was "theoretically possible" that an officer with a death letter would remain on the job because the prosecutor made no employment decisions for the WPD or the county sheriff's offices.
"I can't take someone's badge, only the employer can," he said. "Could you theoretically stay? Yes, but I tell your sheriff, your boss, that you no longer testify in my district."
Still, David described the list as a collaboration between law enforcement and the prosecutor. In addition, law enforcement agencies are required to provide personal information for the list to the DA office.
According to the Giglio Brady standards, parts of the personnel files may only be disclosed in court if a judge is involved in a case if a judge considers the documents relevant to the defense to be relevant. In this case, "impaired" officials could testify on the list as long as the defense can interrogate them.
A death letter prohibits the statement in the jurisdiction as a whole.
The DA office forwards the death letters to North Carolina Training and Standards, which certifies state-level officials.
While it would not be illegal for another department to hire officials, training and standards would be required to notify each district that officials were unable to testify in court due to professional misconduct.
The exchange of information varies from state to state, so it is not clear whether officials would be able to secure employment in a district in another state without disclosing their records.
"I don't know if (their record) is going to Utah," David said. "If you ask if I think that's a good idea, I would say yes."
David said that he modeled New Hanover's Giglio Committee on the model of Charlotte and looked at Raleigh's story with "critical case tests" to continue with the current case.
The DA Office has released press releases asking people who feel they have been profiled by the officials or who have otherwise been treated inappropriately to contact them.
The office has not reviewed every official's file, which spans at least 20 years, and contacted the plaintiffs – although David said he hadn't "decided (the option) in or out".
The reporter Jonathan Haynes can be reached at 910-343-2261 or [email protected]