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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Warren Turner's Abuse Towards Women Permitted By N.C. State Officials

N.C. Dept Of Corrections Invokes Privacy In Warren Turner Sexual Harassment Case

The N.C. Department of Correction, which employs Charlotte City Council member Warren Turner as a Probation Officer, said Tuesday it won't release a list of Probationers whom Turner has supervised, which the Charlotte Observer had requested.

The department said it is conducting an "initial review" of the City of Charlotte's report released Monday that detailed Sexual Harassment allegations by five women that Turner made sexually inappropriate comments toward them.

According to the report, two of the employees told other city officials they didn't want to be alone with Turner. The report said Turner had been "involuntarily terminated" from the Charlotte Police Academy in 1988 after he physically threatened a female cadet and made "repeated" sexually inappropriate comments toward her.

A year after Turner was terminated from the academy, he was hired by the state as a probation officer, supervising men and women on probation.

"Warren Turner occupies a position of authority and we take that very seriously," wrote Pamela Walker, the DOC director of external affairs, in an e-mail.

Turner has said he hasn't done anything wrong and denied the allegations in the investigation. The report, however, concluded that Turner had been "less than fully truthful" during the probe.

Walker said the DOC might decide to release Turner's personnel file, which the Observer also requested. But any list of probationers won't be made public, Walker said.

The DOC wrote in an e-mail Friday that "people who are no longer on probation have a fair expectation of privacy."

The department wrote that "for those that are currently on probation and doing well, making them subject to news media questions about their supervising officer puts them in a difficult position."

Walker said N.C. law allows the state to release a list of probationers "when (Correction Secretary Alvin Keller) feels it is in the interest of public safety. The offender list does not apply in this case."

State statute says that "all information and data obtained in the discharge of official duty by a probation officer shall be privileged information ... and shall not be disclosed ... unless ... ordered by a judge of the court or the Secretary of Correction."

The Observer hasn't requested any information relating to Turner's files on probationers, only a list of people he has supervised. It is a public record in North Carolina when a person is on probation.

Turner declined to comment Tuesday when contacted by the Observer.

In an interview with WBTV Tuesday, Turner said he has been in contact with the Department of Correction about the report and that the investigation "smeared" his name.

Monday's report was spurred by a female city staff member known in the report as Employee A, who complained that on Dec. 14, 2009, Turner pulled on her sweater at waist level when she was leaving fellow council member James Mitchell's office.

When interviewed by the investigators, Mitchell said he didn't remember Turner grabbing the employee's clothing, the report said. Mitchell also told an investigator he didn't telephone her a day or two later to apologize for Turner's behavior, as the employee said.

The employee had complained two other times about Turner making what she considered inappropriate comments to her in 2008, the report said. That year she told her supervisor, known as Employee B, that she didn't want to be alone with Turner.

Four other female employees, including Employee B and the former police cadet, told an investigator that Turner had made sexually inappropriate comments toward them.

Employee B said she witnessed Turner make sexually inappropriate comments on more than one occasion, according to the report. Once, during a National League of Cities meeting in Reno, Nevada, in 2006, she and Turner were walking through a casino. She said Turner made a sexually explicit comment to her as they passed a store displaying pornographic magazines, the report said.

Employee B later had a meeting with City Attorney Mac McCarley and then-City Manager Pam Syfert. McCarley told investigators that she didn't want to be alone with Turner and asked that a male staff member attend future trips.

McCarley said Monday night he didn't confront Turner because the employees had requested that no formal action be taken.

Pat McCrory, who was mayor for 14 years until December 2009, said he had "no idea" about the complaints about Turner.

"I didn't know anything about this," McCrory said Tuesday. "This is complete news to me."

McCrory wasn't interviewed by Moore & Van Allen, the law firm the council hired to investigate the matter. McCrory works at the law firm, and was "walled off" from the investigation, according to McCarley.

When asked Tuesday whether Charlotte City staff should have confronted Turner sooner, Mayor Anthony Foxx said, "Yes. There's no question about it."

Foxx, who was elected to the City Council in 2005, said he hadn't heard anything about such incidents before he became mayor.

After Turner allegedly pulled on Employee A's sweater, the employee complained to her supervisor and City Manager Curt Walton. The supervisor then talked to Human Resources Director Tim Mayes, who said: "I can't sit on this even if (the employee) doesn't want to go forward."

Mayes and Foxx discussed the allegation, and Foxx sent an e-mail in March to all 11 council members warning them not to sexually harass staff. It prompted intense speculation, and led to the council hiring Moore & Van Allen.

Valecia McDowell of Moore & Van Allen read the report Monday night. Council members could vote to censure Turner, though the city's policy against sexual harassment doesn't apply to council members. That means Turner can't be suspended or removed from office.

Turner told council members Monday he would respond to the report, though he didn't say when.

Much of the discussion Monday night was not about the allegations in the report, but about Foxx's decision to send an e-mail to council members. Republican Edwin Peacock asked Foxx, a Democrat, several times why the issue wasn't handled privately.

Said Peacock: "Where do we go from here after this? Where do we go to work with one another?"

Foxx said that he had asked that Walton, McCarley and other officials have a meeting with Turner, though they declined. Walton has said he didn't feel comfortable with such a meeting because the council is responsible for hiring the city manager.

Foxx said Walton then asked Foxx to address the problem before an upcoming council trip to Washington in March.

"I acted," Foxx said.

Democrat Michael Barnes, who is running for Mecklenburg District Attorney, defended Foxx's handling of the situation. He said the city would have been criticized if it attempted to investigate the situation in closed session.

"You can't expect us to deal with this privately," Barnes said Monday. "There was no reasonable set of options that would have allowed (Foxx) to privately deal with this."

Foxx sent a memo Tuesday afternoon to council members stating he was forming an ad hoc City Council Ethics Review Policy Committee to consider, among a number of issues, whether the existing sexual harassment policy should be applicable to City Council members.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, N.C. Dept of Corrections, WBTV, WCNC, WSOC, Google Maps

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