Mooresville Police Department failed to properly equip its officers, hired unqualified personnel and discriminated against a gay patrolman, according to a lawsuit filed by a former top-ranking officer who blew the whistle and notified elected officials of the department’s mismanagement.
David Call, who previously led MPD’s criminal investigations unit, also alleges in a lawsuit he recently filed against the town that then-Town Manager David Treme pressured him to drop his complaint of a hostile work environment.
Call declined to do so and was eventually fired.
He is now suing the town, arguing that his firing violated public policy, the N.C. Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $25,000.
In addition to the Town of Mooresville, Call’s lawsuit also names as defendants former Town Manager David Treme, former Police Chief Damon Williams and Williams’ replacement, Chief Ron Campurciani, who – in his role as interim chief at the time – ultimately fired Call.
“Have you ever heard of someone who files a hostile work environment complaint being fired?” asked William “Bill” Hill of Frazier, Hill & Fury, R.L.L.P. in Greensboro, who is representing Call. “That, to me, says it all.”
Hill said he has heard nothing from the Town of Mooresville since late 2019: “We’ve reached out to them on at least three occasions, and we’ve received no response – crickets,” he said, adding that he’s confident in the strength of Call’s case against the town.
“What they did to him was so blatant,” he said.
In 2018, reports of selective leniency and incompetency of MPD’s command staff ran rampant. At that time, Call filed a complaint with the town that prompted a seven-month, $225,000 taxpayer-funded internal investigation into the police department’s working environment. The probe – conducted by US ISS Agency in Huntersville – eventually resulted in the resignation of then-Chief Damon Williams, demotions of two in his command staff to night patrolmen and – eventually – the town’s firing of Call.
Call’s lawsuit retells much that has already been publicly reported, such as then-Chief Williams’ knowledge that Call had been a finalist for the chief’s position until the town abruptly halted the hiring process to seek-out more diverse candidates. It also recalls how Williams suspended Call and members of his narcotics division for an incident for which the officers were later cleared.
The suit also, however, details curious and troubling behind-the-scenes happenings that led to, and followed, Call’s hostile-work environment complaint.
For instance, on Jan. 17, 2019, the lawsuit reads, then-Town Manager Treme visited Call’s MPD office unannounced. “Knowing (Call) was deeply religious, Defendant Treme walked around (Call’s) desk and placed his hands on (Call), as one would do in a church setting, while saying the matter should be turned over to God,” the suit reads. “While ‘laying hands on (Call),’ Defendant Treme urged him to drop the hostile work environment claim.”
The lawsuit also argues that Call was aware of “several issues within the department which were matters of public concern.” Those stated issues include:
- discrimination against a gay patrol officer,
- refusal to fund narcotics investigations and provide police radios for detectives and narcotics investigators’ vehicles,
- the hiring of under-qualified officers, and
- refusal to provide adequate equipment to K9 Officer Jordan Sheldon – such as a vehicle spotlight and a properly functioning button to release his canine partner in the event of an emergency. Officer Sheldon, who spoke often of his substandard equipment and the lack of morale at MPD, was murdered in the line of duty on May 4, 2019.
While Call was still head of CID, MPD’s then-command staff cut him off from investigating matters that were directly under his command, including the murder of Officer Sheldon – to which Call responded on-scene – and a report that Town Commissioner Thurman Houston had stabbed a man.
US ISS Agency “never tried to differentiate between public concerns versus private concerns,” Hill said. “The issues that were going on were a matter of public concern because they were about issues in the police department.”
Because of the actions of his direct superiors (Williams and Treme), Call felt he had no alternative but to carry matters of public concern to Mooresville’s governing body, the board of commissioners.
It’s one reason the town eventually gave for firing Call – and it’s a violation of his rights afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Hill said.
“And now the town commissioners have set a standard that somebody reporting something wrong going on in the town can be fired,” Hill said. “What the hell?”
He said the resume for ISS – a team of primarily internal-affairs investigators – “looks impressive.” However, he said, he is less than impressed with the team’s “clear lack of knowledge of the process and the impact of the Constitution on employment law.”
He said the ISS investigators treated Call – who retired in 2009 after 25 years with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation before being wooed by MPD – like he was a “capital-murder suspect,” often yelling at him during multiple interviews.
“I don’t know what ISS was told” before the investigation began, Hill said. “But we’re going to find out.”