Three police officers in Wilmington, North Carolina, were fired after their department discovered patrol-car video of conversations containing violent, racist comments about Black people, officials announced Wednesday.
The Wilmington Police Department took the action on Tuesday against Cpl. Jessie Moore, and Officers Kevin Piner and Brian Gilmore. Each was accused of violating standards of conduct, criticism and use of inappropriate language.
Police Chief Donny Williams said at a news conference Wednesday that "with the concurrence of our City Council and at the direction of City Manager Sterling Cheatham" he was releasing a summary of the investigation.
"When I first learned of these conversations, I was shocked, saddened and disgusted," Williams said. "There is no place for this behavior in our agency or our city and it will not be tolerated."
The recorded conversations of Gilmore, Piner and Moore were discovered June 4 during a routine audit of Piner's in-car camera, according to documents released by the police department.
"The conversations included disrespectful language, hate-filled speech and referred to Black people as the N-word," the police chief said, adding that the officers also criticized him, several Black officers within the agency and made negative comments about individuals outside of the agency. Additionally, they made negative comments about the Black Lives Matter protests and were critical of the Wilmington Police Department's response, he said.
A sergeant reviewing the footage from Piner’s car, which were categorized as coming from "accidental activation" of the video recorder, initially noted "extremely racist comments" in a conversation between Piner and Moore. The remarks led the supervisor to make a closer examination of the video, which captured officers using the N-word and other racist language.
An internal investigation followed.
At the 46-minute mark of the video, Piner and Gilmore begin talking from their respective cars, the police summary says.
Their conversation turns to the topic of protests across the nation after George Floyd, a Black man, died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Piner complains in an apparent reference to his own department that its only concern was “kneeling down with the Black folks."
About 30 minutes later, Piner receives a phone call from Moore, who in the call repeatedly refers to a Black female he arrested a day earlier as a "Negro" and then uses the N-word, the summary says. Moore also refers to a Black magistrate as a "f------ Negro magistrate."
Moore says, "Not all Black people are like that," according to the summary. Piner replies, "Most of 'em."
Piner tells Moore later in the phone conversation that a civil war is coming and that he is "ready."
Piner starts speaking about martial law and says: "We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them f------ N-words. I can't wait. God, I can't wait."
Moore responds that he would not do that. Piner says, "I am ready," according to the summary.
Piner tells Moore that society needs a civil war to "wipe 'em off the f------ map. That'll put 'em back about four or five generations."
According to the investigation the officers were interviewed separately and admitted it was their voices on the video and did not deny any of the content.
Each officer denied being racist, the investigation summary said. The officers cited the stress of today's climate on law enforcement as a reason for their "venting."
Gilmore, 48, could not immediately be reached by phone for comment Thursday. Piner, 44, and Moore, 50, did not immediately return phone and email requests for comment Thursday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said the City Council unanimously agreed to release documentation of the officers' conversations despite such an action violating the privacy of personnel files.
“I can honestly say that I was sickened by the vile and destructive language used by these officers,” Saffo said.
Williams said in a statement Wednesday: "Normally, personnel laws allow only a very small amount of information to be made public. However, in exceptional cases, when it is essential to maintain public confidence in the administration of the City and the Police Department, more information may be released."
The police chief said this is the most exceptional and difficult case he has encountered in his career and that we must establish new reforms for policing here at home and throughout the country.
Williams said he will recommend the three officers not be rehired by notifying the North Carolina Criminal Justice Training and Standards Commission about their behavior. In addition to the officers' being fired, prior criminal cases involving the three officers will be reviewed by the district attorney’s office to determine if they committed any crimes in the conduct of those cases or showed bias toward defendants.