DURHAM — Deputy Police Chief Ron Hodge, one of three finalists for Durham police chief, faced a misdemeanor charge of child abuse 10 years ago that was dismissed in court but threatened to cost him his job.
City Manager Patrick Baker, who will make the final call in hiring a new police chief, said he's satisfied that Hodge and his family dealt with the problems that drew sheriff's deputies to his home May 4, 1997.
Hodge was accused of spanking his son, then 13, with a police-issued nightstick because he got into trouble at school, according to court documents and news reports from the time.
Hodge's daughter called 911, and sheriff's deputies arrived to find Hodge had locked himself in a room, according to news reports.
He was allowed to stay at the home that evening and was charged five days later with misdemeanor child abuse. The boy was not seriously injured.
The case was dismissed by a judge in early 1998, court records show.
Baker said Hodge, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, took anger management classes and the entire family underwent counseling.
They came out stronger for it, Baker said, and the son, Hodge's youngest, recently graduated from Johnson C. Smith University.
"It had more to do with a difficult relationship between a preteen son and his father," Baker said.
"There's nothing that causes me concern from that incident that affects Mr. Hodge's capacity to be the next Durham police chief."
But officials in the state Attorney General's Office thought the matter left Hodge unfit to be a police officer. They sought to have Hodge stripped of his law enforcement certification, Baker said.
Baker, who was an assistant Durham city attorney, said he is "intimately familiar" with the case because he defended Hodge against the state charges.
He said Hodge went before an administrative law judge, who found that Hodge wasn't guilty in large part because his son did not suffer substantial injuries.
The state appealed, but Hodge prevailed again.
"There never was a conviction or finding of guilt against Deputy Chief Hodge," Baker said.
Baker said he didn't know why the state pressed the case as hard as it did, other than saying the state "takes a pretty hard line with officers caught up in the criminal justice system."
He said he would discuss the issue with the City Council when it meets Tuesday with Hodge and the other two finalists -- Jose Lopez Sr. of the Hartford, Conn., Police Department and Don Green of the Knoxville, Tenn., police.
Council member Eugene Brown said he was aware of the incident. He wants to hear Hodge's account.
"Anytime you've got someone who's vying to be chief of police in any major city and something like this comes up, the first thing we want to hear is, what's the explanation for it?" he said.
Council member Thomas Stith said he first learned about the incident Tuesday. He then spoke with Baker, who he said satisfied him that Hodge was cleared of wrongdoing. He said he won't make the incident an issue.
(News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)
Staff writer Matt Dees can be reached at 956-2433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.