EAST SPENCER — The former East Spencer police chief who was fired in July had a criminal history, did not have homicide investigation training and was the only candidate interviewed for the job, according to public records released to the Post last week.
Town board members voted to fire Darren Westmoreland on July 29 following a series of Post reports that cited concerns from current and former officers of negligent criminal investigations.
Investigative reports obtained by the Post this summer said Westmoreland called off help from the State Bureau of Investigation and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office during a homicide investigation in 2011.
But training records released this week show Westmoreland had no homicide training prior to coming to East Spencer and did not receive murder investigation training during his 18 months as chief.
Westmoreland could not be reached for comment.
The town also confirmed Westmoreland had been charged with four offenses in the late 1980s prior to his employment at East Spencer.
Authorities charged Westmoreland with second-degree trespassing in 1984, larceny in 1986, probation violation in 1987 and trespassing in 1989. Only one of those charges — the larceny, which was identified as more than $200 — was listed as a conviction on the North Carolina corrections department website.
Town Administrator Macon Sammons hired Westmoreland in February 2012, but in an email response to questions asked in July, town officials said Westmoreland was the only candidate interviewed for the head job.
Town officials did not list any violated policies or procedures for Westmoreland’s abrupt firing in the former chief’s termination letter, instead stating “as noted, the decision was simply based on the conclusion that now is the time for a change in our direction.”
In an email from Sammons to Town Attorney Jeff Morris shortly before the July 29 meeting where Westmoreland was fired, Sammons said the former chief was prepared to respond to the Post’s reports, but was advised not to.
“This has to stop somewhere — soon. We could spend all our time answering questions, some of which are probably outside of (Freedom of Information Act) parameters. I guess we can talk about it at 6:15 PM,” Sammons wrote.
“Darren and I had been working on a point by point corrections of statements made in the two articles between 2:30 and 3:30 PM today, but after talking with his attorney, he came back to say that she had advised him not to give written answers, which leaves me in a weak position to answer questions that need answers.
“Darren did say that his attorney was willing to meet with us along with Darren to answer questions, but that this could not be done on short notice, such as tonight,” Sammons wrote.
The Post requested training records, criminal records and emails from Westmoreland and the town’s mayor on July 29. Mayor Barbara Mallett’s emails were released to the Post on Oct. 2.
But in an email response on October 7, town officials said they did not have access to Westmoreland’s Gmail account.
Westmoreland used the address, firstname.lastname@example.org, as his professional email contact, listing it on the East Spencer Police website. He also frequently corresponded with Mallett in emails regarding town matters, records show.
Despite the Post requesting Westmoreland’s emails prior to the former chief’s termination, Town Clerk Anneissa Hyde said the emails were a “legal impossibility” for the town to access.
“Mr. Sammons stated that Westmoreland is no longer employed by the town; that the Gmail account was never under the Town’s control; that the Town does not have password information to gain access to Westmoreland’s G-mail account; and that counsel has determined that it is a legal impossibility for the Town to give the Post access to what the Town simply does not have in the Town’s possession, authority, or control,” Hyde wrote.
Post Attorney Amanda Martin said the emails are public records and should be available upon request.
Martin said the retention periods of emails vary email to email, but municipalities have a responsibility to make sure the public can access records.
“The question is if the set-up makes public records less accessible then it’s a violation of the law,” Martin said of the police department’s email system.
Other East Spencer officials, like the mayor and town board, have a separate email system that is run through the @townofeastspencer.com domain.
Sammons did not return a phone call or email seeking comment on Westmoreland’s history, the town’s separate email systems or the town’s ongoing search for a new police chief.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.