RALEIGH — State Capitol Police officers have long been among the poorest paid among local law enforcement, and when Tony Asion became interim chief in October, he came up with a plan to put more money in their pockets.
But the plan involved setting up a nonprofit entity that served as a conduit for off-duty security assignments, which was poorly managed and opened the agency up to questions of double-dipping and improper use of state vehicles, according to an internal investigation. And the main client was a North Raleigh nightclub that had become such a problem that the Wake County Sheriff’s Office stopped making its deputies available for off-duty security assignments there.
Today, Asion is out of a job, as is a sergeant, Benjamin Franklin, who investigators found administered the off-duty work program. Last week, Asion filed a state whistleblower claim with the Office of Administrative Hearings to get his job back. Asion says his firing wasn’t about the secondary employment; it had to do with his raising questions about duplicative salary payments for three officers, which he suspects were used to quietly move money between state agencies.
Asion was fired Feb. 15 after running the police force for nearly six months. He was hired in August 2012 as the deputy chief but became the interim head after Chief W. Scott Hunter died in September. The police force provides law enforcement for the downtown state government complex and other state-owned properties.
State Department of Public Safety officials have not given a specific reason for Asion’s firing, but newly appointed Secretary Kieran Shanahan said as he announced Asion’s and Franklin’s suspensions Feb. 3 that the action was prompted by an investigation into off-duty work. Officials with the department had no comment on Asion’s legal claim.
Asion’s attorney, Michael C. Byrne, made the internal investigation report public Saturday at The News & Observer’s request. The investigation indicated that Asion had not profited from the off-duty work program. But it did find the program had a “pattern of poor management practices, little familiarity with existing policies, no oversight involved in crucial decision-making processes, a misuse of state vehicles for off-duty work and a misappropriation (of) monies that charge(d) for use of state vehicles.”
According to the state internal investigation, Asion sought to provide off-duty opportunities for his officers to boost their morale. Byrne said Asion had the discretion to set up a program, and he patterned it after a similar program he set up as a former lieutenant with the Delaware State Police.
Asion deposited $250 of his own money – later reimbursed – into a bank account for what he called a “State Capitol Police Special Duty Fund.” He appointed Franklin the administrator and allowed him to be compensated in the form of $1 for every hour worked.
The internal investigation could find no evidence that Asion had registered the fund as a nonprofit with the state. By the time the off-duty program had been closed down, it had taken in more than $30,000 in security work, with $26,000 of that money coming from the Club B.E.D. bar at 4030 Capital Blvd. in North Raleigh. Asion had a verbal agreement with the club’s manager to provide security at $30 an hour per officer, plus an $8.50-per-hour “vehicle usage” fee, all to be paid in cash.
Asion told investigators in a written statement that “the bulk” of the money raised by the vehicle fee would be used to mark and outfit new police vehicles. But financial records showed none of it had been spent for that purpose. Roughly $2,400 was spent on a Christmas party; $773 went toward Franklin’s administrative fees; and $296 went toward flowers, meals, coffee and sweatshirts.
The investigation also found that Capitol Police officers twice had to make arrests for criminal conduct while working at Club B.E.D. When those officers processed the suspects in those cases, which included charges of carrying a concealed weapon and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, they logged that as official time, receiving state pay, the investigation said.
“Accordingly, they sometimes received wages from the club and wages from the state for the same hours worked,” the report states.
Asion told investigators he had not checked out the club’s history. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison told investigators he ended his department’s off-duty security work with the club in October because it had gotten “completely out of hand.” The club’s manager then went to the Raleigh police for off-duty security but was turned down “due to the history of calls for service at the club.”
The state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency pulled the club’s permit to sell alcoholic beverages on the first weekend of February because of “ownership issues and history of fights,” the report states. The agency is also a part of the Public Safety Department but told investigators it did not know State Capitol Police were providing security.
Byrne, Asion’s attorney, said the issues raised by the investigation did not amount to a fireable offense. He said there was no policy requiring Asion to notify his superiors of the off-duty program, and a dismissal letter from his supervisor, Gerald Rudisill, makes no mention of one. It cites “unacceptable personal conduct.”
Byrne said what Asion did was “to provide an opportunity for his officers, who are underpaid public servants with an agency whose budget was cut 50 percent. He provided them the opportunity to do extra work just as the Raleigh Police Department does, and just like the sheriff’s department presumably does, and just because they don’t like the populace for which he provided the work he’s dismissed?”
Byrne said Asion’s firing, as described in his claim filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings, has more to do with a “bizarre” money shuffle that Asion questioned in December. That month, Asion said in the claim, he was given a contract that called for the Department of Administration to pay the salaries of three officers. But Asion said those officers were already being paid by two other departments.
Asion questioned the payments because they appeared to represent paying double for the officers. He sought to have the money go toward three additional positions to make up for the personnel cuts the previous year. Asion said he told Rudisill about the contract. Rudisill is a deputy Public Safety chief who is soon to retire.
“In response,” the claim said, “Rudisill in these or similar words, informed (Asion) that the Department of Administration owed the Capitol Police money, approximately $46,000, and that signing this salary contract was the only method by which the Capitol Police could be repaid.”
Byrne said Asion’s history shows no disciplinary action until his suspension and subsequent firing.