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SHARPSBURG — The former police chief named in a discrimination lawsuit is supporting the lieutenant he fired and pointing fingers at town officials who he says orchestrated Lynette Clements’ dismissal.
In a three-page statement, John Hunt claims he was following orders when he terminated Clements’ employment 11 months ago and contends the town administrator and elected town board members micromanaged the Sharpsburg Police Department, tying his hands in matters of discipline.
“I know definitively that Lynette was discriminated against by the majority of the Board of Commissioners, who all happen to be Caucasian,” Hunt wrote. “If you take a look at the police calendars from 2016 and 2017, you will see that I had a diverse department.”
Hunt is now a part-time police officer in Bailey while Clements is the police chief in Whitakers.
Clements, an African-American woman, sued the town of Sharpsburg in federal court on Nov. 28, claiming she suffered race, gender and disability-based discrimination under Hunt’s leadership of the police department. Hunt is named in the suit as a central figure representing the town but is not a defendant.
Hunt, who is also African-American, says his superiors ordered him to carry out the discriminatory acts.
He names Town Administrator Blake Proctor, who retired Oct. 19, and Police Commissioner Randall Collie as the officials who directed Clements’ firing. Both Proctor and Collie are white.
“My desire was to work with Lynette again, but I was directed with an imperative that under no circumstances was she to come back to work,” Hunt said in the statement. “I did not write her termination letter; the town lawyer wrote the termination letter and had me to sign off on it. Blake Proctor gave me a directive to present the termination letter to Lynette Clements.”
Hunt said the police commissioner and town manager limited his authority as police chief, and as a supervisor, the only disciplinary action he could take on his own was to suspend an employee for a maximum of three days.
“As chief of police, I did not have the ability to hire or terminate any employees without being instructed to do so by the above-mentioned individuals,” Hunt wrote.
As for his own dismissal from the town of Sharpsburg on June 25, Hunt rejects Collie’s previously reported claim that he gave “an improper directive to his officers” following a May 21 traffic stop.
“The town of Sharpsburg decided to terminate me because I was investigating several incidents” involving two police officers, Hunt wrote.
Hunt named those officers and described the conduct of which they were accused in his statement. The Wilson Times is not identifying the officers because the claims could not be independently verified in time for this story.
Clements, represented by Raleigh attorney James A. Barnes, is seeking $85,000 plus interest and attorneys’ fees in the discrimination lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The former lieutenant claims Hunt stripped her of supervisory duties, took away her assigned police car, suspended her for three days for “allegedly listening to inappropriate music in her assigned vehicle,” required her to submit to a medical evaluation without cause and then fired her.
Hunt said former Mayor Randy Weaver directed him to order Clements’ fit-for-duty evaluation, painting a picture of a police department entangled in small-town politics. After carrying out their orders, Hunt says Sharpsburg’s elected leaders eventually turned on him.
“I followed the personnel manual and followed instructions as directed,” he wrote. “I had no problems with the Board of Commissioners prior to May 26, 2018.”
Clements’ dismissal paperwork claims she was fired for mishandling evidence — failing to maintain chain-of-custody logs and not delivering evidence to the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab in a timely manner.
The termination letter states that those incidents could adversely affect criminal prosecutions.
Town Attorney Brian Pridgen refuted Clements’ discrimination claims last week.
“The town of Sharpsburg maintains that Ms. Clements’ claims are without merit and that her termination from the town was solely attributable to her performance as a police officer,” Pridgen wrote in an email to The Wilson Times.