'We really need some cops': Still no police force in Kenly as independent investigation continues

ByJamiese Price via WTVD logo
Monday, August 22, 2022
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An independent investigation launched after Kenly's entire police force quit has stretched on, and frustrated residents say they "need a police department."

KENLY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gil Lugo owns Lugo Tires and Road Service in Kenly. He's been set up on the same corner since 2015. Lugo said he's invested in his business and wants it to be safe. It's something he questions now after the town no longer has a police force.

"We really need some cops," said Lugo.

Lugo's former employee, Thomas Hargis, was at the tire shop on Monday and he agreed.

"Well, we need some more security like the police. The Johnston County Sheriff's department is doing a good job. The state troopers are doing a good job. But it's not the same as if we had like, people, the police in town," said Hargis.

The shop has security measures in place such as video surveillance, but the team at Lugo's wants a police department.

"If it ain't nothing but one, two, three of them, you know," Hargis added.

On Aug. 2, every officer at the Kenly Police Department turned in their badges, uniforms, and holsters. Their resignation came after allegations of a hostile work environment. The former police chief, Josh Gibson said it was Town Manager Justine Jones that made work conditions unbearable.

An outside agency has been investigating the claim made against Jones. The investigation was supposed to wrap up at the end of the week that began Aug. 8.

Town Attorney Chip Hewett said Monday in an email that they're still waiting on the investigation.

"It doesn't matter if there's 200 people here or 2 million people here. We need a police department," said Kenly resident Amanda Chestnut.

She was grocery shopping Monday night with her daughter. Chestnut said nothing has been the same since the officers resigned.

"Ever since the police department quit, it's been a change in the community, you can tell as the presence has really changed. For the better for worse, we don't know, yet we can definitely tell there has been a change," said Chestnut. "We have the deputy sheriffs patrolling the town, they have been making their presence known throughout the community. So, that has put us at ease somewhat, but you just won't get the same presence, like having a chief that was here for so many years."

Jones said open positions will soon be posted. Kenly Mayor Tooie Hales also said they're working to find a police chief and will build the department from there. There's a committee to help with the search.

Meanwhile, Johnston County Sheriff's deputies are providing the law enforcement presence in Kenly. The sheriff's office has assigned eight deputies to patrol. Two deputies are on patrol at all times.

Jesse Locklear said that's not enough. He fears some people will see this as an opportunity to commit crimes in Kenly.

"I just know when they're not being police here that people are going to do a lot more because they know they can get away with it," Locklear said.