HAMLET, N.C. -- Nearly two years after City Manager Marchell David fired former Hamlet Police Chief John Haywood, the community remains starkly divided over circumstances that led to his dismissal.
Many Hamlet residents, including some current city council members, believe David acted inappropriately by firing Haywood over allegations that he mismanaged funds by failing to supervise his staff -- accusations the State Bureau of Investigation later said were unfounded.
Councilman Eddie Martin said David launched the investigation on suspicion that Haywood allowed officers on his watch to sell seized cars to scrap yards, then buy them back and keep the vehicles for themselves, or pocket the money. Martin said that allegation is untrue and that if a crime had been committed, the SBI would have brought charges by now.
The SBI said Haywood didn't do anything wrong, but David stood by her decision and refused to reinstate him. SBI agents are now conducting a separate investigation into the crushing of seized vehicles. A state Department of Justice spokesperson has not revealed the nature of the current investigation.
Martin believes Haywood was treated unfairly, and that even if he did violate "some minor policy," the punishment did not fit the crime.
"The SBI proved he was not guilty of anything, and if they say it, I'm satisfied," Martin said. "I know him. I was a chief of police at the same time he was. I knew him to be a good guy, and honest, and I tried many times to get him to come over to Rockingham but he wouldn't come over, he knew he would have a chance to become police chief in Hamlet -- and he did, and they pulled the rug out from under him. I think the majority of people over here would want to see him fully reinstated. We'll just have to see what happens."
Now, the police chief position is open, leading to questions as to whether Haywood might consider returning to the Hamlet Police Department. Haywood has been a patrol officer with the Rockingham Police Department since October.
Despite the SBI's conclusions, some residents insist David -- who's been under scrutiny for dismissing Haywood -- is being unfairly treated. They've taken their grievances online through social media.
An open Facebook Group, "We stand with Marchell David and the city of Hamlet," invites people to "Join this group if you are disappointed in the way our city council is treating our city manager, want to hold them accountable to develop ideas to help our city and want to voice your opinion."
The group, started May 2 by Hamlet resident Chris Carpenter, has 171 members and not many posts. The most recent activity was about a month ago and had little to do with David, but the reason for the group's existence points to a much larger issue -- the elephant in the boardroom -- that the city council challenged David's contract and did not elect to have a new one written.
Martin said another officer who was fired, Michael Veach, is also not guilty of any wrongdoing related to cars seized and then sold for scrap value. Veach did purchase a vehicle back from a scrap yard that Hamlet police had sold it to, but Martin said it was all done legally.
"I don't think Michael or John deserve to have been fired," Martin said. "He (John Haywood) was fired for something that I think could have been handled in-house. Here is a man who's been working for Hamlet 27 years, is loyal with a perfect record -- and made to look stupid and crooked."
Martin said he is aware of the rumors circulating through the community and understands people's confusion.
"They had cars that have been down there (impounded) 15, 20, 30 years," Martin said. "That's what they sold. They weren't dragging cars off the street and rushing to sell them off to scrapyards before people could get them out. Some people, like, 'Oh you keep it and use it for training and what the city needs.' There's a letter with that. Someone, I don't know who, got the school board to write a second letter that makes it sound like they (the county Board of Education) don't want anything to do with the money because it was tainted or something. But that was after the fact and wasn't even true."
Haywood and Veach said their attorneys had advised them not to comment, but both said they would tell their sides of the story when the investigation concludes.
David was not in her office Tuesday afternoon and did not return a phone message in time for this story.
Copyright 2014 - Richmond County Daily Journal, Rockingham, N.C.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service