Former Sharpsburg police chief sues the town he once protected

SHARPSBURG, N.C. (WTVD) -- It was big news when the then mayor-elect of Sharpsburg, a town halfway between Wilson and Rocky Mount, was arrested the night of the run-off election for DWI after a breathalyzer test showed him five points over the legal limit.

But, according to a lawsuit filed by the then police chief of the town, it didn't go down as the officer, who initiated the stop, originally reported.

That officer, the lawsuit claims, reported that he was contacted "by a citizen" who told him the newly elected mayor, Robert Williams, had been drinking at his victory celebration and would be driving.

The former chief of police, John Hunt, says in a wrongful termination lawsuit, that he began looking into the circumstances surrounding the arrest.

He claims he learned the citizen who contacted his office was actually a town commissioner who had been told about the drinking by the then mayor who had lost that night.

And the commissioner bypassed Hunt to call the officer.

Hunt is black. So was the mayor-elect.

The incumbent mayor, the commissioner and the police officer he allegedly called are all white.

In the lawsuit, the former chief says after the results of the run-off were announced at the Town Hall he was in the parking lot when the incumbent mayor told two other white commissioners, "We don't want a black man in charge."

"Chief Hunt was right there. He heard that himself. That's not some hearsay information. That's from their mouths to his ears. They didn't want a black man in charge," Hunt's Raleigh attorney, James Hairston, told ABC 11.

In the lawsuit, Hunt says he began investigating the circumstances behind the arrest of Williams because the officer's report didn't reveal the true nature of the tip.

And he says dash cam video also didn't match up with other aspects of the report.

Later that month the same officer stopped Williams again assuming he was driving with his license suspended because of the DWI.

Hunt claims he had told the officer's supervisor that the mayor-elect had been granted a limited driving privilege after his arrest but the supervisor never passed that on to the officer.

But after investigating both stops, the officer and the officer's supervisor quit.

He believes other white town officials thought he was siding with the mayor-elect.

"That arrest had nothing to do with his relationship with the mayor. He was police chief prior to that election. And it appears that his officers weren't as forthcoming as they should have been after there was a review of the camera footage. And the camera footage spoke for itself," Hairston said.

Hunt also cites numerous other instances of alleged racism in the lawsuit.

In one instance, he says he was having a casual conversation with the Town Administrator, the man who later fired him, when the administrator began talking about his early years working as a mechanic and his racist co-workers.

Hairston said, "He's using the 'N' word repeatedly but he attributes the use of that word to what his friends were saying back in the '70s and how they used that word. However, he realized that chief Hunt was uncomfortable about the use of that word."

The lawsuit says that after the town administrator fired Hunt, the white officer and supervisor who quit were rehired and promoted.

"The only reason chief Hunt lost his position as Chief of Police is because of his race. And maybe some misguided belief that he was in some way beholding to the mayor who happened to be black. But my client's been in law enforcement I think twenty-nine-and-a-half years. All of the policies were fair and implemented to be fair across the board," Hairston said.

Hunt is asking for at least $50,000 in damages for wrongful termination.

ABC11 has reached out to Sharpsburg's town administrator, town attorney, and Mayor Williams but didn't get an immediate response.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.