Raleigh police officer who says he was fired for owning distillery will fight dismissal

A Raleigh police officer who says he was fired for owning a legal distillery filed an appeal Wednesday to get his job back.

The Raleigh Police Department has a written policy prohibiting officers from having a second job that involves “the sale or handling of alcohol.”

“About a week before the soft opening I was pulled into an office and I was told to resign or be terminated,” the former officer, Eric Tansey, said in a video posted to the distillery’s Facebook page. “This came as a huge blow. I did not see this coming at all. I asked what I was being terminated for and they said, for owning a distillery.”

Donna-marie Harris, a spokesperson for the Police Department, said the policy has been on the books since the 1990s and that the department could not elaborate on Tansey’s case because it was a personnel matter.

“The policy is not clear,” said Tansey, who’s been an officer since 2012. “Even with how the policy is written, it is completely out of date and needs to be re-written.”

The department would not provide a copy of the dismissal letter, which is public record under state personnel law. (Update: Harris sent an email shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday saying the department could not provide a dismissal letter until a decision is made on his appeal.)

Police officers may have second jobs as long as they do not interfere with their role as an officer, according to the city’s policy. The written policy also prohibits officers from having second jobs as private investigators, bill collectors or bail bondsmen.

Tansey and two other co-owners have worked for over three years to open InStill Distilling Company in Clayton, he said. Several of his supervisors knew he was working to open the distillery and some Raleigh police officers even helped him construct the shop, he said.

“The policy doesn’t say you can’t be a owner of a distillery or brewery,” Tansey said. “It just says you can’t serve, handle, sell or distribute.”

As a co-owner, Tansey said he is not personally handling the alcohol and doesn’t believe he is in violation of the department’s policy.

At least one City Council member, David Cox, has publicly spoken about the issue.

“I will look into this situation,” he tweeted. “Since when is it OK for a City Councilor to own a brewery but not a police officer? Unless there are extenuating circumstances, this policy should be changed.”

Council member Nicole Stewart’s husband, Les, co-owns Trophy Brewing Company.

In a text message, Cox said he asked the city manager to bring the policy up during the Aug. 20 city council meeting.

The Durham Police Department prohibits officers from working at a business if it provides “nighttime entertainment” or “reflects a nightclub environment.” A department spokesperson did not answer a follow-up question about whether this includes breweries and distilleries .

The Chapel Hill Police Department has no such policy, a spokesperson said..

The deputy chief of police has 10 business days to respond to Tansey’s appeal.

This story was updated at 5 p.m. Aug. 8, 2019.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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