Judge: City can look at officer’s CHPD file

Aug. 29, 2014 @ 06:41 PM

A judge has allowed lawyers for the city a look at the employment history with another area police force of a former Durham Police Department lieutenant who’s now suing the city for wrongful termination.

The former lieutenant, John Shelton, worked for the Chapel Hill Police Department from late February 1995 to late January 1996, before resigning. He went to work for the Durham police in May 1998.

He’s now suing the city, alleging he was fired in 2012 in retaliation for having been willing to testify truthfully about what he knew about the Duke lacrosse case.

Shelton was the first Durham officer to deal with the stripper in that case, Crystal Mangum, who in 2006 falsely accused three Duke University men’s lacrosse players of raping her at a team party.

The former lieutenant and his lawyer, Bob Ekstrand, filed suit against the city late in 2013 after officials ignored a settlement demand. Lawyers on both sides are now preparing for a trial that could begin next spring.

City lawyers want a look at Shelton’s Chapel Hill Police Department personnel file, and Superior Court Judge Michael O’Foghludha earlier this month agreed they can have one.

His order said the city’s legal team believes there were “earlier issues” that “bear similarities to issues in dispute” in Shelton’s litigation with Durham officials.

The judge noted that he’d reviewed documents from Shelton’s Durham personnel file city lawyers provided “in support” of their request.

O’Foghludha also reviewed Shelton’s Chapel Hill file, and said he would make “portions” of it available to the city’s lawyers.

Chapel Hill’s legal counsel “did not object” to providing the documents, provided the requirements of the state’s personnel-privacy statutes are followed, the judge said.

The judge instructed Chapel Hill officials to give the documents to Ekstrand as well.

Durham officials fired Shelton in July 2012.

His termination letter cited “untrue” statements by Shelton during a grievance hearing and “false and unfavorable statements” by him “criticizing the conduct” of an official who led a pre-discipline conference.

Shelton alleges that the firing was pretextual because his testimony in the lacrosse case would have helped members of Duke’s 2005-06 men’s lacrosse team who sued the city. Ekstrand represented one group of those players.

By all accounts, Shelton, then a patrol sergeant, questioned Mangum at Duke University Medical Center the night of the now-infamous team party and didn’t believe her story about having been raped.

Ekstrand and other lawyers for the players contended that instead of trusting Shelton, city officials conspired with former District Mike Nifong to fabricate a bogus case against the players to bolster Nifong’s election chances and discourage student partying in neighborhoods next to Duke.

The players’ civil lawsuits against the city ground to a halt earlier this year, with Ekstrand dropping outright the last of the three cases it faced. The city had previously won at the federal appeals-court level, successfully contending the players could point to no violation of federal civil-rights law.

Shelton’s lawsuit claims he had repeated run-ins with department higher-ups, starting in 2006 when he was questioned by Nifong’s staff investigator about alleged media leaks regarding the lacrosse case.

His 11-month tenure with the Chapel Hill police happened while former Police Chief Ralph Pendergraph was leading that department and former Town Manager Cal Horton was running the town administration.

He hired on with the Durham police a few months after former Police Chief Teresa Chambers took over that department. Lamont Ewell was Durham’s city manager at the time.