John W. Moore, a former Chapel Hill police officer who resigned last summer after his superiors concluded he had posed as an FBI agent to intimidate a high school student, now says that his civil rights were violated.
Call it the Case of the Faux Fed: In May 2003, two police officers, Moore and Bryan Walker, questioned Chapel Hill High School student Erin Carter about a suspected computer hacking that was later determined to be a technical glitch. Both officers wore shirts with FBI insignia. Moore led the questioning and gave Carter a business card that bore the FBI's official emblem and identified him as a "Task Force Agent" of an "FBI Cyber Crime Task Force." Both Carter and Principal Mary Ann Hardebeck, who sat in on the interview, were convinced that the officers were real-life federal agents.
The Independent published the first report on the incident on May 28, 2003. The next day, Chapel Hill Police Chief Gregg Jarvies suspended three officers, opened an investigation into the incident and issued a press release that seemed to clear up the question of the officers' purported FBI ties: "The officers who responded to the high school on that day do not work for the FBI nor are they assigned to the FBI's Cyber Crime Task Force."
A week later, police investigators concluded that the officers had misrepresented themselves as federal agents. In response, Jarvies suspended Walker for 10 days without pay and, after telling Moore that he was to be fired, accepted Moore's resignation.
Now, almost a year later, the story is suddenly back in the news. On May 6, Moore struck back, as he and another former officer filed a lawsuit in a Greensboro federal court that accuses the police department and the town of Chapel Hill of practicing reverse discrimination. The co-plaintiff in the lawsuit is Brad Jones, who also resigned amid controversy last summer. Jones was accused of racial profiling and improper procedures during a traffic stop in Chapel Hill's predominantly black Northside neighborhood.
Both Moore and Jones are white. In their lawsuit, they claim that that is the true reason they were forced to resign, and between them, they're seeking $78 million in damages. Their complaint accuses Jarvies and other town officials of slandering, libeling and wrongfully disciplining the two former officers, and claims that a pattern of discrimination in the department punished white males while letting minority and female officers off the hook when they violated policies and broke laws.
The complaint lists several cases of misconduct and crimes committed by officers who were allowed to stay on the force after their infractions (though some were demoted). The officers included: a black male officer who "notarized a document without a signatory present in 2001, a class I felony"; a black male officer who, "after facing numerous allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, many of which were verified, was caught moonlighting in two extra jobs during which time he billed both employers for identical periods of time in 2003"; a white female officer who "received a driving while impaired charge, for having a blood alcohol level at more than twice the legal limit, in 2003 for which she was convicted"; a white female officer who "pulled her service revolver on Kendra Simms, a Public Safety Officer on duty at the fire station, for leaning on [the police officer's] personal vehicle"; a white female officer "caught falsifying a time sheet by the Police Chief"; and a white female officer who "was found to have committed credit card fraud, and was caught sleeping on duty."
"This means that we now have felons serving in the Chapel Hill police department," says Ron Cooley, a Hillsborough lawyer who is representing Jones and Moores. Meanwhile, he says, the pair of former officers paid with their jobs for alleged wrongdoing that they were not guilty of. "This is the most blatant discrimination I've seen in the last 20 years," he says. His clients were innocent but forced out because of their gender, race and "because they got bad press," Colley tends.
Moore's part of the complaint hinges around the question of his actual affiliation with the FBI. "Moore was assigned to the FBI High Tech Crimes Task Force," it claims, adding that he "was soon to be sworn in as a federal agent." Therefore, the complaint argues, Moore did not misrepresent himself. "He had joined them, he was working with them," Cooley says. "It was simply a matter of him getting his top secret security clearance. That was all that remained."
Chief Jarvies reached a different conclusion from his department's investigation, as he reported in a memo to Town Manager Cal Horton that the Town Council released to the public. The memo said that while Moore and Walker had applied for membership on the task force, "no decision had yet been made by the FBI as to whether the two officers would be members." Jarvies wrote that Moore had, "by presenting a credential that identified him as an agent of an FBI task force, acted in a manner that I believe is not consistent with federal law." (Impersonating an FBI agent is a federal crime.)
Regarding the "FBI" shirts, the officers had purchased them at an FBI training session, Jarvies reported. Since they wore them on a "casual Friday"--a day when the department allowed them to wear personal clothing--that, by itself, was not a violation of department policy. The business card may prove a more complicated issue for Moore as he pursues the lawsuit, which will likely take more than a year to come to trial. According to the police department investigation, Moore made the card himself and handed it out even though a colleague--a Chapel Hill police officer who was actually on the FBI task force--had advised him to discard it.