POLICIES SHIELD SUSPECT COPS
Why did the Leland Police Department keep on duty an officer it
knew was the subject of a state and federal cocaine-trafficking
probe? According to officials in the Brunswick County town, their
personnel policy made them do it.
Nationally recognized authorities on police practices say that under
model police policies used in some cities, Cpl. Brett Hobbs
would have been reassigned to a less-sensitive job or suspended
with pay until the investigation played out to ensure security and
Cpl. Hobbs is free on $500,000 bond after being indicted for
cocaine trafficking and for obstructing justice.
He is accused of association with a drug gang whose members moved
at least 100 pounds of cocaine from Mexico to Texas to Florida,
and eventually, the North Carolina counties of Brunswick, New Hanover
and Columbus in 1999 and 2000 before he was a police officer.
A joint task force that included drug officers from Brunswick County
and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, along with the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, handled the probe, dubbed
While an indictment does not mean a person is guilty of a crime,
it does show that a grand jury believed there was enough credible
evidence for the case to continue to court.
Leland -- like several other cities in the Cape Fear region and
nationwide - -- applies the same policies to police officers that
it does to other employees, from floor-sweepers to department heads.
Unless, and until, an arrest is made, the question of whether to
suspend with pay or re-assign lies solely in the hands of police
chiefs and city managers.
Leland officials say that's just fine with them and acknowledge
that their policy treats all city employees equally. But that
view is far from universal.
Burgaw City Manager Martin Beach said he is well aware that in public
life perception often carries the same weight as reality.
His town's policies, he said, do treat all employees the same but
have provisions that cover accusations. And discretion is
used in Burgaw as well, he said, when police officers are involved.
"Law enforcement has to be held to a higher standard,"
Mr. Beach said. "With the power and authority that
they have, they have got to be beyond reproach."
Under Burgaw's provisions, an officer accused but not formally charged
could be placed on "investigative leave" with pay.
Extra leeway Wrightsville Beach has a personnel policy similar to
Robert Simpson, the newly installed town manager, said Thursday
that the questions of whether police officers merit a higher standard
or special provision are valid.
"It would be nice to have a little bit of extra leeway,"
Mr. Simpson said.
Wilmington uses model policies recommended by the International
Association of Chiefs of Police, a spokesman said. There,
as in many other cities throughout the nation, special provisions
exist in personnel policies that recognize the special nature of
police work and call for a higher standard of accountability.
Beau Thurnauer, chief of police in Coventry, Conn., and author of
a guide to internal affairs practices for small police departments
offered as a model policy by the U.S. Department of Justice,
is among law enforcement professionals who say ita€ s dead
"I can' imagine an agency letting this guy work. How,
in good conscience, could you let a guy you think is being investigated
by the DEA still work?" Chief Thurnauer said, after learning
specifics of the Hobbs case during a telephone interview.
"If you are looking at what the acceptable standard is for
performance in law enforcement nationwide this doesn't fit it.
The majority of police chiefs in this country would say this is
unethical. There is a morality issue and there is a legality
issue, and those are not the standards that the rest of the nation
Several attempts to reach Leland Police Chief Osey Sanders for comment
on this article were unsuccessful. However, Leland Town Manager
David Hewett defended the town's policies and the decision to keep
Cpl. Hobbs on the force.
"This is America, and in America you are innocent until proven
guilty," said Mr. Hewett, noting that Leland's personnel
policy allows for suspension, demotion or dismissal of employees,
for failure in performance or failure in personal conduct.
Conduct unbecoming a public officer or employee -- as it is defined
-- or conviction of a felony or misdemeanor that would adversely
affect performance are among grounds for such official actions in
the personal conduct category.
Authorized to kill Leland's policy allows for a "non-disciplinary
suspension" without pay during an investigation, hearing or
trial, but it does not contain provisions for a forced paid leave.
Mr. Hewitt said that the investigation by state and federal
authorities did not trigger such a suspension. Leland launched
its own investigation after Cpl. Hobbs was indicted, which
triggered this provision. However, Cpl. Hobbs continues
to draw salary in the form of vacation and compensatory time, Mr.
Several local police executives and city managers interviewed last
week were, for the most part, at a loss to explain how their specific
policies would guide their actions in a similar situation.
Some said they would deal with such a case on a situational basis,
regardless of what policies said.
Officials in two local municipalities -- Burgaw and Wilmington --
said they have specific provisions that would govern such an occurrence.
Police officers, who are authorized to use deadly force when necessary
and to detain citizens, must be held to a higher standard, Chief
Thurnauer and other law enforcement executives said.
A police officer who is accused of drug trafficking and remains
on the job could potentially have access to data about confidential
informants, as well information on pending drug raids and on personal
details about fellow officers.
Criticism of Leland's handling of the case is not limited to the
concerns of Chief Thurnauer, or other experts in distant places.
"Everyone is up in arms because they kept that officer on duty
during that investigation," said Oak Island Police Chief Tom
Johnson, one of the few local police executives interviewed last
week to voice criticism on the record. "We have to hold
ourselves over and above. We hold police officers in high
Bigger debate The broader issue of special treatment for police
officers "whether in a positive or negative light" was
a hot topic of discussion Thursday in Raleigh, where legislators
heard testimony for and against an amendment that would create extra
protections for police officers accused of crimes or misconduct.
Sponsored by Rep. Grier A. Martin, D-Raleigh, HB 1504
would establish minimum procedures to establish due process of law
for officers in criminal and administrative investigations.
City managers and police chiefs are among the opponents to the measure,
dubbed the "Investigation and Discipline of Law Enforcement
Officers bill," which they say would further tie their hands
when misconduct against an officer is alleged.
The legislation does, however, recognize suspension with pay as
an option for a chief whose officer is accused of improper behavior.
Municipal policies that allow for paid suspensions or reassignments
"similar to Burgaw's investigative leave practice" are
in better stead to weather problems that arise when a cop is the
The Leland case, Chief Thurnauer and other law enforcement executives
said, is proof that municipalities need to examine their policies
and that people need to demand that their elected representatives
take the job seriously.
"There is not a due process question; there is no loss of time
and no loss of wages. If the preliminary investigation runs
its course, it runs its course," Chief Thurnauer said.
"You've got to pay the guy's salary. I think it stinks
for the taxpayers, but it is better that you retain the guy and
Asked why anyone should care about what their town's personnel policies
are, or even bother to ask what they are, Chief Thurnauer said the
answer should be self-evident.
"If you are comfortable with unethical, disruptive, chaotic
behavior then that is what is right for you," he said.
Staff Writer Ken Little contributed to this story.
Leland Officer Arrested on Drug Charges
May 12, 2005, 10:11 AM EST MAY 5, 2005 -- The officer in charge
of the Leland Police SWAT Team is under arrest and has now
been moved to a different jail for his protection.
Police Commander Brett Hobbs surrendered to authorities early Thursday
afternoon to face drug charges.
The State Bureau of Investigation booked Hobbs at the Brunswick
County Jail. The charges involve making and dealing crack cocaine
and lying to authorities.
Hobbs was moved to the Central Prison in Raleigh to protect his
He is commander of the Leland Police SWAT Team. He is also
the son of Leland Mayor Pro Tem Gordon Hobbs.
The district attorney's office says it has been investigating this
drug ring for years.
Hobbs' bond is set at $500,000. At least seven others have
been indicted in this drug ring. If Hobbs is convicted, he faces
a minimum 14-year mandatory jail sentence.
Right now, he remains on the force but has been taken off the street.
Leland's town manager issued a statement Thursday saying Hobbs
has a right to due process
HOBBS ARREST ON DRUG CHARGES DIMS SPIRITS
Regarded As Trusted Member Of Team Of 8, He Is Charged With Recruiting
To Sell Drugs
The arrest of an Alleghany County sheriff's deputy this week on
federal charges that he recruited two people to sell drugs seized
during investigations has left the small sheriff's office downcast
but relieved, a spokeswoman said yesterday.
The deputy, Ricky James Lyall, 33, of 1144 Prathers Creek Church
Road in Laurel Springs, was arrested Tuesday on eight drug-related
offenses, including conspiracy to possess drugs with intent to distribute,
possession with intent to distribute, making a false statement to
a federal law-enforcement agent, and six counts of extortion.
On Aug. 24, a federal grand jury in Charlotte returned a 15-count
bill of indictment against Lyall. The indictment had been
sealed until Tuesday. He was being held yesterday in the Mecklenburg
County Jail. No information was available about his bond.
Lyall has been on unpaid administrative leave from the Alleghany
County Sheriff's Office since April 23, 2004.
"The sheriff requested an outside investigation in April of
that year and had contacted the SBI in Hickory," said Nyla
Duncan, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. "It stemmed
from an internal observation here between the sheriff and our chief
deputy. It was obvious to both of them that it did not need
to be an internal investigation."
Lyall is accused of protecting the two people he is alleged to have
recruited by "impeding criminal investigations; refusing to
charge or arrest them; failing to write or falsifying police reports,"
according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office
Lyall is also accused of extorting the two people for "things
of value," including "money from the sale ... of
drugs and sexual favors."
He is also charged with making a false statement to a federal law-enforcement
agent, and with six counts of extortion under the Hobbs Act.
The Hobbs Act prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion
that in any way affects interstate commerce, the Justice Department's
crime-resource manual says.
Lyall had worked for Alleghany County since 1992, first as a dispatcher
and later as a deputy.
Others at the sheriff's office said that Lyall had become a trusted
part of the team of eight deputies, which includes the sheriff and
chief deputy as well as two deputies who are assigned to the Roaring
Gap Country Club.
"We do have some auxiliary officers," Duncan said.
"One of those is our court bailiff. At night, there's
really usually just one deputy that covers the entire county.
During the day, it's two and the chief deputy and sheriff.
In a county this size, you know, the sheriff works just like one
of the deputies does."
The investigation and this week's arrest have been hard on the spirit
of the sheriff's office, she said.
"I think that the morale of the entire department was just
unbelievably low, like April of last year," she said.
"That sort of thing ... generated a lot of discussion
and rumor which I guess is normal in a small community. I
think that at this point everybody is relieved to see the end of
Sheriff Mike Caudill could not be reached for comment.
Duncan referred questions about the nature of the drugs that were
involved and their amounts to the U.S. Attorney's Office in
Charlotte, which declined to provide anything more than a copy of
Last updated: May 24. 2005 12:00AM
Leland officials let town down
A man being investigated in connection with serious crimes has been
allowed to work as a Leland police officer, thanks to the town manager,
the police chief and, ultimately, the town council – one member
of whom happens to be the officer's father.
Leland residents deserve better from the people they trust to protect
If Cpl. Brett Hobbs' indictment leads to his conviction on cocaine-trafficking
charges, town residents will reasonably wonder whether his privileged
position as an officer allowed him to help himself or criminal associates.
But whether he is found guilty or not, Mr. Hobbs' status as a potential
suspect already has led to the dismissal of charges in about two-dozen
other criminal cases in which he played a role as an officer.
In most professionally managed police departments and municipalities,
Mr. Hobbs would have been reassigned or placed on paid leave when
his superiors learned that he was being investigated by federal
and state law-enforcement officers.
But neither Leland Police Chief Osey Sanders nor Town Manager David
Hewett chose to do either of those things. They cited a policy that
gives them that authority, but doesn't require it.
In fact, even after they knew he was being investigated, Mr. Hobbs
was promoted, sent to school to learn how to use high-powered weapons,
and allowed to remain commander of the SWAT team. He also was allowed
to make narcotics arrests.
It's interesting that Mr. Hobbs was hired as an officer in the first
place. When he was in training, he got into three minor scrapes
with the law.
Before that, his home was invaded by ski-mask-wearing men, and shots
were fired – the kind of thing that can happen to innocent
people, to be sure, but more often happens to criminals who've run
afoul of other criminals. Certainly it was the kind of incident
that should have made town officials very careful about hiring him
as an officer.
The treatment of Mr. Hobbs may have had nothing to do with the fact
that his father is R. Gordon Hobbs, a member of the Town Council
and now mayor pro-tem. But town residents are entitled to wonder.
They also will wonder why other members of the council allowed the
situation to reach the point at which one national authority could
call Leland's approach "unethical" and Oak Island Police
Chief Tom Johnson would be moved to say, "Everyone is up in
arms because they kept that officer on duty during that investigation.
We have to hold ourselves over and above."
Apparently that attitude will prevail in Leland only if voters let
elected officials know that they expect it.
Last updated: May 21. 2005 11:26PM
Some are troubled that officer remained on
street during probe
By Ken Little
Numerous questions remain unanswered in the case of Brett Hobbs,
the Leland police officer charged May 5 with trafficking cocaine
and obstructing justice.
For the time being, Leland police and other town officials aren’t
“We’re making no further comments concerning his issues
or his case or anything surrounding it or regarding it,” Chief
Osey Sanders said earlier this week. “He’s got legal
counsel now, so it wouldn’t be prudent for us to comment.”
Cpl. Hobbs, 26, has many professional responsibilities. He is departmental
K-9 officer, SWAT team commander and has also served as a narcotics
officer since joining the force in April 2002.
Since last summer, Cpl. Hobbs advanced in rank, attended the SWAT
school and worked on the street, making arrests for drug offenses
and other crimes.
“Not only did he continue to make arrests, he was promoted
and sent to advanced training school,” said Chris Thomas,
Brunswick County assistant district attorney.
Potential legal implications of the Hobbs case are far-reaching.
To date, the District Attorney’s Office has thrown out about
25 criminal cases initiated by arrests made by Cpl. Hobbs this year,
including at least five felonies.
“We never want to dismiss cases against anyone. It endangers
the public,” Mr. Thomas said.
Lawyer Griffin Anderson represents criminal defendants in Brunswick
County. The allegations against Cpl. Hobbs prompted Mr. Anderson
to review cases arising out of arrests made by the Leland Police
Mr. Anderson said that if prosecutors were aware Cpl. Hobbs was
under investigation for alleged criminal wrongdoing, they should
have furnished that information to defense lawyers – an action
clearly defined in the 1963 Supreme Court “Brady V. Maryland”
ruling that serves as the landmark case concerning issues relating
to suppression of evidence.
“How would they have been affected if we had that information?
I may have handled it differently,” he said of his clients.
“I think there is a responsibility by authorities to provide
that kind of information under Brady. It raises questions from the
point in time authorities knew about that activity.”
Mr. Thomas isn’t sure how earlier convictions obtained through
arrests made by Cpl. Hobbs will be affected. He will not elaborate
on the activities of Cpl. Hobbs after he became a police officer,
other than allegations connected with the 2004 obstruction of justice
“For the last several months, we have been providing defense
attorneys who represent individuals arrested by Brett Hobbs with
information about the investigation,” Mr. Thomas said.
The SWAT instruction was particularly troubling to authorities.
Cpl. Hobbs voluntarily surrendered to investigators, but no one
knew how he would react prior to May 5, Mr. Thomas said.
“At SWAT school, you are sent to a school to be more effective
with high-caliber weapons, which raised a great concern of our having
to take him into custody,” Mr. Thomas said.
Between August 2000 and March 2001, Cpl. Hobbs attended and graduated
from the Brunswick Community College basic law enforcement training
program. He would have then had to pass a state certification examination
to become a law enforcement officer.
“We believe he was still engaged in illegal drug activity
up to and during basic law enforcement training,” Mr. Thomas
said. Authorities won’t elaborate.
Brunswick County court records show Cpl. Hobbs had several minor
brushes with the law before becoming a Leland policeman, including
several that occurred while he was in basic law enforcement training.
In March 2001, Cpl. Hobbs was charged with unlawful possession of
a game animal, a fox. In April 2001, he entered a guilty plea to
the minor misdemeanor charge, received a five-day suspended jail
sentence and was placed on unsupervised probation for six months.
He was also charged twice with speeding – in April 2001 by
Shallotte police and in August 2000 by Boiling Spring Lakes police,
after being clocked driving 86 mph in a 55 mph zone. Both cases
were resolved without criminal convictions. Cpl. Hobbs successfully
completed a defensive driving course.
When he was 21, Cpl. Hobbs was the victim of a home invasion in
the Leland area. On Oct. 25, 1999, two armed men wearing ski masks
burst into the Kingsworth Lane home where he was staying.
Shots were fired and the men fled. There were no injuries. No arrests
have been made in the case, which was investigated by the Brunswick
County Sheriff’s Office.
Cpl. Hobbs posted $500,000 bond May 10 and is free pending a June
8 court date. His parents put up property in a deed of trust to
make bond, as did Village Road neighbors of the Hobbs family, William
and Lorene Potter.
Cpl. Hobbs is on paid administrative leave.
“He has accumulated compensatory time and there is paid vacation
he is entitled to,” Leland Town Manager David Hewett said.
When the vacation and compensatory time runs out, “we will
address that situation,” he said.
Roy Trest, Cpl. Hobbs’ lawyer, said the town is working on
the pay issue, and may assign him a job that doesn’t involve
Cpl. Hobbs’ father is R. Gordon Hobbs, Leland councilman and
mayor pro tem. He has not returned calls seeking comment on the
case. Mr. Trest has also declined comment.
The multi-agency investigation into the drug distribution network
allegedly associated with Cpl. Hobbs has been active since at least
1998. Authorities said the focus of “Operation Riptide”
is on a drug ring that originates in Mexico and imported more than
100 pounds of pure cocaine into Brunswick County during 1999 and
Chief Sanders was informed of the investigation in the summer of
2004, Mr. Thomas said, and learned even more several months later.
“It was definitely made available to the police department,
specifically, the chief of police. We’ve allowed the Leland
police to completely review this case file,” Mr. Thomas said.
In December, Chief Sanders was shown particulars at the Brunswick
County District Attorney’s Office.
Mr. Thomas said the chief was able to review evidence that includes
a photograph of Cpl. Hobbs taken from the home of co-defendant James
Ellis, a high school friend, depicting him in street clothing and
smoking what appears to be marijuana.
Chief Sanders was also given access to a cassette tape of Cpl. Hobbs
sitting in a patrol car while on duty and engaging in a conversation
with a relative of Mr. Ellis who is a convicted drug dealer, Mr.
The chief also looked at letters written by Cpl. Hobbs to Mr. Ellis,
who is in a federal prison.
All the alleged activities are in direct violation of police department
policy, Mr. Thomas said.
About a month ago, another high-ranking Leland Police Department
officer was also given access to the same material Chief Sanders
reviewed, Mr. Thomas said. He did not specify the officer.
Leland Town Manager Hewett acknowledged after Cpl. Hobbs’
arrest that Chief Sanders knew of an “investigation of an
unknown nature” in the summer of 2004.
“In the 10 months since that time, Chief Sanders repeatedly
asked the District Attorney’s Office to produce evidence that
might lend credibility to their investigation or warrant termination
of the officer,” Mr. Hewett said in a recent release. “I
am not sure why the District Attorney’s Office failed to respond
to our repeated requests for substantive information they had that
lent credibility to the investigation. They’ll have to answer
Mr. Thomas said he was taken aback with Mr. Hewett’s comments.
“They have been made aware of the case,” he said. “I
really wish the city manager would come look at the evidence. I
would be happy to review it with him.”
Chief Sanders was on vacation for two weeks during the time of Cpl.
Hobbs’ arrest. He is now back on duty, Mr. Hewett said. Contacted
earlier this month, the chief said Cpl. Hobbs performance has been
“monitored” since last year.
“I was aware of the officer’s activities at all times,”
he said. “During that time, there was nothing displayed other
than good police work.”
Leland police employed a series of “checks and balances”
that ensured Cpl. Hobbs’ job “was being performed as
it was supposed to be,” Chief Sanders said.
“What I knew had to remain confidential,” he said.
Ken Little: 343-2389