Family angry at E. Spencer police chief

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 26, 2013

EAST SPENCER — The stepfather-in-law of a man killed in East Spencer in 2011 says police told him the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and State Bureau of Investigation couldn’t help investigate because they were “booked up.”
Allen Hines, whose stepdaughter’s husband, Travis Hinds, was shot at a Cedar Street house party, criticized the East Spencer Department upon learning from a Salisbury Post article that then-Acting Chief Darren Westmoreland called off assistance from the two departments.
“They told us a lie then,” Hines said. “They told us Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the SBI was so booked up they didn’t have the man hours or the manpower to participate.”
For weeks, Hines said, he stopped by the department with leads his stepdaughter had passed on to him. He met with officers, but Westmoreland never spoke to him at any point in the investigation, he said.
“It was like they weren’t really interested. I was very disappointed. Up until this point they haven’t contacted us about anything,” Hines said. “I was very displeased with how they handled the investigation.”
Hinds’ mother, Burl Haynes, said she didn’t realize the East Spencer Police Department was conducting the investigation alone until nearly three weeks after the funeral.
“That’s when I really started going down there and trying to find out if they made an arrest or anything,” Haynes said.
But, like Hines, Haynes said she was given “the runaround.”
“We asked, ‘Why don’t you get help? Why don’t you get help from outsiders? From private investigators?’ ” Haynes recalled during a phone interview Thursday.
“They kept saying, ‘We got this. We’re working on it.’
“I personally feel if they had gotten help from the outside, then the person who shot my son would have been behind bars a long time ago.”
Relatives of Hinds weren’t the only ones to show displeasure at the allegations involving the homicide investigation.
Alderman John Noble, a former Rowan County deputy, said he was “upset” to learn the chief dismissed help. Noble said the Post’s report about the way the investigation was handled came as a surprise to several town board members.
An incident report penned by Rowan County Detective Tracy Misenheimer detailed the exchange with Westmoreland.
“During the course of this process, Acting East Spencer Chief Westmoreland stated he did not want our assistance with anything other than the crime scene investigation and storage of the evidence collected,” Misenheimer wrote. “SBI Agent (Steven) Holmes and I spoke to Westmoreland several times and confirmed this was his decision. I assisted with the crime scene investigation and released all the Sheriff’s personnel at 0850 (hours) and left the scene in the care of Chief Westmoreland.”
The case has not been solved, though Hinds was shot several times at a house party attended by dozens of people.
“There’s no way you shoot someone four times in the chest and the face, and after they fall down you shoot them in the back, that someone didn’t see something,” his mother said. “That’s cold-blooded murder.”
Officers who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity said nobody in the East Spencer Police Department had homicide investigation training in 2011.
Noble said that in his experience in the Sheriff’s Office, murder investigations should involve skilled officers, and lots of them.
“I was a supervisor. I was in the detectives division,” Noble said. “When you had a crime scene — one of this magnitude, such as a murder — you want everybody you can get to help you at that crime scene and you want people, certified people, to help you.
“It was my understanding that (Westmoreland) didn’t have any experience dealing with crime scenes,” Noble added.
Alderwoman Rosa Burris said she agreed with Noble that some of the information reported this week was new to board members, but declined to comment further.
“I think it surprised a lot of us,” Burris said.
Noble also said he wanted to clarify a comment he made in Wednesday’s Post story — that the problem was specific to the department.
He meant to say the problem “was with the chief and the department,” Noble said.
Along with the homicide investigation, officers accused Westmoreland of falsifying time sheets and failing to properly investigate the shooting of a toddler in December 2012.
In an email response Thursday, Westmoreland said he could not comment on the allegations, citing the town’s personnel policy.
Noble stopped short of criticizing the hiring of Westmoreland, but said bluntly, “he has no managerial experience.”
“Having a chief, the top head of your department, he needs to be well trained in investigations, in community work,” Noble said.
Prior to coming to East Spencer, Westmoreland worked at the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office from 1999 to 2001. Sheriff Maynard B. Reid, Jr. said Westmoreland started as a deputy and later moved to the county jail.
He resigned a day after getting a job at the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked from 2001 to 2009. He was fired June 12, 2009, according to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
The Post filed a public records request with East Spencer on Tuesday, asking for the chief’s salary, hiring date, and any promotion, demotion, disciplinary or suspension history.
Town Clerk Anneissa Hyde declined to provide the information, citing the need for review by Town Administrator Macon Sammons Jr., who she said was on vacation. Sammons has not returned repeated phone calls requesting comment.
When the Post cited the state’s public records law and requested the information again, Hyde responded with a statement.
“At this time the only comment we have from the Town is that unattributed sources of alleged information to news media are often not the most reliable sources of alleged ‘news.’ Other than that, the Town has no official comment on the veracity of the unnamed sources, or the accuracy of their alleged information.”
The Post’s attorney, Amanda Martin of Raleigh, said the requested documents should not require review before being made available to the public.
“The public has a right to get this information and if it is not released it’s a violation of the public records law,” Martin said.
Town council members are expected to meet at the town hall Monday at 7 p.m.
“The purpose of the special meeting [is] for unexpected circumstances that require immediate consideration by the public body; to wit, yesterday’s news reports in the Salisbury Post which allege personnel questions that require the board’s immediate consideration,” Hyde wrote in an email Thursday. “Since personnel matters may not be heard in open session, it is anticipated that all discussion will be conducted in closed session.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.