Audit finds nothing improper in Durham police hiring chief's nephew

jwise@newsobserver.comSeptember 5, 2013 

— City authorities have found nothing improper about the Police Department’s hiring of a relative of Chief Jose L. Lopez as an officer on the Durham force, but are still looking into allegations that Lopez said an attorney wounded in a shooting “deserved” being shot.

After a closed City Council meeting Thursday, City Manager Tom Bonfield issued a statement saying the city considers the hiring matter closed.

About the alleged remark, he said, “Something will be forthcoming soon about that.”

Asked what he meant by “soon,” Bonfield replied, “Soon.”

Lopez is also the subject of a civil-rights discrimination complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Assistant Chief Winslow Forbes. Forbes’ attorney, Caitlyn Thomson, has not received a response from EEOC since filing the complaint in August, but said, “That’s pretty normal.”

EEOC spokesman Joseph Olivares said federal law does not allow the commission to comment on discrimination filings unless EEOC files a lawsuit “which is typically our last resort.”

Previous charges

The allegation of improper hiring involved a claim that Ramon Andre Grillasca, a nephew of Lopez’s wife, was hired as a Durham police officer despite lying to former Durham police investigator Anthony E. Scott during a background investigation.

In a notarized statement, Scott said Grillasca initially told him he did not have court records on several previous criminal charges in Florida, but that he produced the records after being told police recruiters would need them. He said they were in his car after all.

According to Florida criminal records, Grillasca had his driver’s license suspended and paid a fine for speeding in 2008, and received a $108 fine for a worthless-check conviction in 2002.

Bonfield said the city’s Audit Review and Human Resources departments investigated the circumstances of Grillasca’s hiring and training and found “no evidence of improper decisions or influence to support the allegation or overturn the hiring.” Grillasca is a sworn officer in recruit training.

Alleged remark

The EEOC complaint includes Forbes’ claim that, while preparing for a July 2 news conference, Lopez said an unnamed attorney, a bystander hit by a stray bullet, deserved to get shot because he was a public defender.

Bonfield said the attorney is not actually a public defender but has served as court-appointed counsel. Nevertheless, the alleged remark prompted letters of concern to City Attorney Patrick Baker from Durham County Chief Public Defender Lawrence N. Campbell and Jennifer Harjo, president of the N.C. Public Defender Association.

“Any lack of respect for criminal defense attorneys and/or Public Defenders is not only unwarranted but demonstrates an ignorance of our duties, obligation and profession,” Harjo wrote in a letter to Baker. “Such conduct must not be tolerated.”

In a reply to Harjo, Baker wrote that the city had hired an independent consultant to investigate discrimination complaints by Forbes before the EEOC complaint was filed. That inquiry was finished in June, before the alleged remark about the wounded lawyer.

The city has not yet made its response to the EEOC complaint.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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