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Officer claims retaliation, intimidation, and harassment at heart of termination

Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper

By Clint Parker- Friday, July 13 Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper terminated Asheville Police Captain Mark Byrd. In a letter to Byrd obtained by the Tribune/Leader, Hooper alleges Byrd had violated four police policies.

Asheville Police Captain Mark Byrd

The termination letter did not take long to get a response from Byrd’s attorney, John Hunter. In a statement, Hunter alleges Hooper is pursuing “a course of retaliation, intimidation, and harassment” against his client for trying to bring out “…severe management issues” within the Asheville Police Department (APD).

Hunter cites a “…letter to [Asheville] Mayor Mannheimer dated June 13…” of this year in which there are a number of charges Byrd makes against Chief Hooper including making false public statements and failure to initiate a timely criminal investigation into the actions of Asheville Police Officer Chris Hickman in relations to the pedestrian beating of Johnnie Rush.

Byrd also alleges in the letter that Hooper was involved “…in possible harassment and/or discrimination involving…a female APD Officer under his command…[and] Byrd reported this information to Peggy Rowe and Jamie Joyner of the City of Asheville Human Resources Department.” Byrd received this information in November of last year. He further states “…both he and the Officer feared retaliation by Chief Hooper for the making of this report. The other Officer involved in that report has filed a claim of retaliation against the Chief for certain adverse actions Chief Hooper subsequently took against her. The placement of Captain Byrd on Investigative Suspension now appears to be the next step in Chief Hooper’s and the City’s retaliatory response to these allegations.”

Finally, Byrd also said in the letter that during “November 2017, Captain Byrd was made aware, via an anonymous communication, that two APD Officers had allegedly been instructed, outside the normal chain of command, to respond to an incident involving Chief Hooper’s wife, and that the Officers had responded to the call and resolved the incident without completing proper documentation for that call. Captain Byrd passed this information along to Captain [Stoney] Gonce, the Captain in charge of those Officers, for review. It is Captain Byrd’s understanding that these allegations were subsequently substantiated.” Police Chief Hooper terminated Gonce on May 1 of this year.

Anonymous sources told the Tribune/Leader about the harassment incident several months ago which lead Contributing Reporter Chad Nesbitt to send a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to APD on May 16th asking for a “…Declaration Of Relationship Status…” report filed by Chief Tammy Hooper or with Hooper’s name on the list.

Christina Hallingse, Asheville Police Department Public Information Officer, replied the same day to the request stating, “The records that you have requested are not public record pursuant to NCGS 160A-168. However, Chief Hooper is not currently, not [sic] has she ever been, involved in any relationship with any person that works for the City of Asheville that would require the completion of this form.”

Hunter’s statement basically says the firing of Gonce and Byrd was a direct retaliatory result of Byrd’s and Gonce’s actions toward Hooper and “…the decision to terminate Captain Byrd will only deepen the problems now facing that Department. Captain Byrd will appeal this dismissal. We are confident that once the Asheville Civil Service Board and, if necessary, a Buncombe County jury, hear the facts in this matter, Captain Byrd will be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.”

In the summary of the termination letter to Byrd Friday, Hooper mentioned nothing of Byrd’s allegations and said, “I have concluded that you have violated the following policies: City of Asheville’s Ethics Policy D. Honesty, APD Rule of Conduct 1-11 Truthfulness, APD Rule of Conduct P-12, Supervisory Cooperation and APD Rule of Conduct P-2, Unsatisfactory Job Performance.”

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