RED SPRINGS — As captain of the Red Springs Police Department, sheriff’s candidate Ronnie Patterson faced an internal investigation about the alleged sexual harassment of a female officer under his supervision during which he lied repeatedly to investigators and during a polygraph test, according to documents obtained by The Robesonian.
Patterson currently is chief of the Red Springs Police Department and one of five candidates for sheriff of Robeson County in the Democratic primary on May 8. The personnel complaint and the internal investigation of Patterson were concluded 10 years ago this month.
Patterson was exonerated of the charges of sexual harassment and creating a hostile working environment by the internal investigation. The investigation did conclude that there was a sexual relationship and that Patterson violated the town’s personnel policies. Patterson was given a 14-day suspension without pay and demoted from captain to school resource officer.
The town settled a civil lawsuit with the female officer and her attorney. The confidential files were placed in the town’s personnel archives, and a gag order was issued to all parties, including Patterson, forbidding them to speak about the matter publicly.
The Robesonian received a packet of documents about the case. It includes 36 entries and 87 pages. The packet was turned over to the newspaper by a source who asked to remain anonymous.
According to Patterson’s campaign manager, John McNeill, personnel files are confidential, and the matter has been referred to the State Bureau of Investigation and the North Carolina Bar Association.
“This shows how desperate the opposition has become,” McNeill said. “Everything in that file is suspect. None of it may be accurate.
“The charges against Ronnie were unsubstantiated. It has been the history of this campaign to throw everything at this candidate.”
The case in question became relevant about eight years ago when Patterson testified in a murder case, McNeill said. After reviewing it, Superior Court Judge Frank Floyd cleared Patterson to testify in any trial.
District Attorney Johnson Britt didn’t dispute that Patterson can testify, but said under what is called “Giglio,” his past perjury must be disclosed to a defense team, and that hurts credibility.
“A Giglio involving any officer must be disclosed if that officer is to testify in a trial,” Britt said. “In the situation with Ronnie Patterson, I don’t recall a trial in which he has testified since he has become police chief in Red Springs. I have a trial that begins May 7 that is a murder case in Red Springs in 2014. I am not using him as a witness.”
Britt has endorsed Burnis Wilkins for sheriff. The other candidates are Randy Graham, George Kenworthy and James Jones.
According to a Memorandum of Disciplinary Action dated April 8, 2008, from then-Red Springs Police Chief Troy McDuffie, Capt. Patterson was found to have engaged in “conduct unbecoming of the public officer or employee.’’ He was also found culpable of “inefficiency, negligence or incompetence in the performance of duties.”
The memo also found there was “no credible or circumstantial evidence” of sexual harassment on Patterson’s part. Claims by the female officer were labeled “UNSUBSTANTIATED.”
“Patterson did engage in sexually related inappropriate behavior with (the female officer),” the disciplinary report states. “Captain Patterson gave a signed affidavit in which he gave untruthful statements denying any involvement with (the female officer).”
Patterson denied the relationship to internal investigators and during a polygraph test. Not until Feb. 27, 2008, in the late stages of the investigation, did Patterson admit to having a relationship with the woman. The Robesonian has elected not to identify her by name.
In a letter to investigator Yahya Shakir, J. Rick Brown, an agency legal advisor with the North Carolina Justice Academy, offered his consultation. He recounted Patterson’s behavior in one paragraph by using the word “lied” four times and “lying” once.
“More notably, once an officer lies in an investigation, he has permanently damaged his credibility,” Brown wrote. “Courts will be reluctant to take his word over that of any other witness.
“His effectiveness as a law enforcement officer is ruined,” the legal advisor continued. “You are now on notice of his dishonesty, which could result in liability to the city in the future for his dishonest acts.
“I would suggest that you look at the impact this has in the department, the other city offices and the community as a whole. The message to others is that even though you took an oath to uphold the laws, you can lie and still be a cop for your city.”
The packet appears to be a file, if not the entire personnel file, of the case. It was copies, not the original. According to the files, several town employees were interviewed and the female officer’s disciplinary files as well as a psychologist’s examination of her were included.
Before admitting the affair on Feb. 27, Patterson signed a statement saying, “I deny all allegations” on Feb. 18. The personnel case was closed on April 5, 2008, with a cover sheet marked “CONFIDENTIAL.”
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]