Rincon City Council has concluded its presentation of its investigation into the city’s police department and its ex-chief — and offered more serious and salacious accusations Monday night.
City Attorney Raymond Dickey said the investigation of former police chief Mike Berry led to allegations of sexual harassment of city workers, financial misconduct and threats to officers.
Dickey said there are allegations that Berry sexually harassed a city employee and another officer during his time as chief. It was also alleged that former officer Scott Collins sexually harassed the same city worker and police officer. Dickey said Collins had intimate relations with a female in the council chambers.
Berry reiterated his opposition to the investigation.
“The city of Rincon’s actions are deplorable and embarrassing,” he said. “The reported ‘findings’ of their one-sided, malicious and biased administrative investigation has no credibility or factual evidence and has been manipulated and conducted by Rincon city officials who are currently involved in a lawsuit concerning their illegal and unethical behavior.”
Berry has sued the city, citing it violated the open meetings act. The city has countersued, claiming Berry destroyed city property.
Credit card charges
After Berry was hired as chief, he was given a BB&T credit card, Dickey said.
“It’s very clear with the cities policies, personnel policies and purchasing policies that you don’t use a city owned, government owned credit card for your own personal purchases.”
Dickey said the card was used to purchase an International Eagle Directory on April 10 for $122.29 and a round trip airline ticket to Virginia on April 11 for $759.50. Berry, who came to the Rincon Police Department from the Newport News (Va.) Police Department, is said to have charged a total of $1,002.91 on the card.
Dickey said he can find no record that the mayor, council or city manager gave him authority to use the credit card. He said Berry did pay the city back for the charges to the credit card.
Rewards for tickets
Dickey said there were allegations that Berry wanted officers to write more tickets. He also said an e-mail sent from then city manager Donald Toms that said there had been a server ordered for the police department and to pay for it there should be 29 $100 tickets written.
Dickey also said that Berry and Toms bought gift cards as rewards for ticket-writing.
Dickey said in February and March there were 164 citations. In April, there were 158. There were 171 in May, but in June there were 444. In July, there were 342 citations according to the court records.
“We have determined that gift cards were purchased with city money, and that a gift card was given to Officer Scott Collins for traffic enforcement and that it matches that jump up from 171 to 444 tickets in one month,” Dickey said.
Dickey said there are questions about the money paid to uniform and equipment company Response Public Safety.
“During Berry’s early days in office, according to the officers, he instructed them that they could not buy anything or use any other vendors but Response,” Dickey said.
Dickey said the city’s purchasing policy requires department head approval for all purchases up to $1,000. Purchases from $1,000-$5,000 must have approval of the city manager and any purchases over $5,000 have to have city council approval.
He said there are statues in the state and ordinances in the city in regards to surplus, unusable or worthless property. There must be some action taken by the city council in regards to property.
“When Mike Berry first got appointed as chief of police, there were computers, cash register and some other odds and ends that you may remember were pilled up in the police department’s floor, which Chief Schofield was attempting to have surplused and disposed of,” Dickey said.
Dickey said council had already voted on disposing that property when Berry arrived.
“Looking through our investigation we found a pattern by Chief Berry where he would throw away city property, and by that I mean he would throw it away, and get no value for it,” he said.
He said there are several TVs, VCRs and radios with chargers. He said the radios were working, but Berry threw them away.
Council member Ken Baxley said he tried to find the radios, which have been used during the July 4 parade, and he was unable to locate them.
Dickey said the radios and chargers were worth thousands of dollars. He said there were items from the police armory thrown away, including stop sticks.
“We know one thing for sure — that the City of Rincon purchased them,” he said. “They were in the armory, and they’re not there now.”
Dickey said all of the uniforms in the back were thrown away, including holsters and gun belts.
“We have an extreme problem with trying to track this stuff down,” Dickey said. “First of all, when we started this investigation we asked for an inventory of what they had, and there wasn’t an inventory.”
Dickey said Berry also did not have an inventory of the guns he was issuing with serial numbers.
He said Berry deleted the content of a number of files on Sept. 8 during the council meeting. Dickey said there is no policy about deleting information from a computer, and that is something the council needs to address.
Dickey also said Berry somehow gained information from council executive sessions.
He said Berry overspent his budget.
“The police department’s budget for uniforms for 2008 was $9,500,” Dickey said. “As of Dec. 31, 2008, the police department, on uniforms only, had spent $18,405.33 — that is 193.74 percent of that budgeted item. In addition to that, we have outstanding invoices that we are still discussing with Response and contesting some of them, but we have invoices beyond that $18,405 totaling $3,461.52 that will bring your grand total to about $21,000 spent on uniforms in a very short period of time.”
“One of the things that’s puzzling is dealing with Response, and the owner is willing to work with us and help us where he can,” Dickey said. He said there were problems at the store with invoices and money.
He said there was an invoice approved by Berry that states at the bottom that the city of Rincon owed more than $73,000.
He said the majority of the invoices from Response are dated from April to August and that Berry did not properly fill out the approval sheet for invoices for the finance department.
Dickey said there were items purchased in officer’s names, and the officers said they did not purchase the items nor received the items. Dickey charged that Berry made a purchase at Response in Jack Beaty’s name, after Beaty had been terminated from the force.
He said that for the majority of purchases from Response the cashier was Nicole Collins.
“He was supposed to be looking at these things, and making sure they were correct,” Dickey said of Berry. “At the very least he failed to carry forward with that duty because you don’t approve a sheet that says that you owe that kind of money.”
Dickey said there were invoices that show 36 badges being purchased, a number of polo shirts and jackets. He said some of the sales receipt numbers don’t make sense with dates printed prior to the sale. There are also multiple accounts for the city.
“It’s difficult to keep track of how these occurred,” he said.
He said there are a number items that the city has been billed for that are not in the police department’s possession.
Dickey said there are some invoices from multiple purchases on the same day, hours apart.
He said there are different sets of invoices ranging from 29 jackets to 34 jackets purchased. Dickey showed a side of the jacket that was neon yellow; the other side has sheriff in white letters that Dickey said the officers covered with black permanent marker.
Dickey said there was no record kept of what the city received from Response. Most of the items are not there now, and he said they don’t know what if the city received the items, and if it did what happened to the items.
He said there were multiple items that were the same purchased at different prices within days.