A federal jury has yet to reach a verdict in a trial to determine whether the city of Laurinburg is liable for damages to a former city police officer following his 2007 dismissal.
Deliberations continue this morning at U.S. District Court in Greeensboro. The seven-member jury is considering if Laurinburg officials were correct to terminate former Laurinburg Police Lt. Tommy Wright after allegations of misconduct were made against him during an SBI investigation.
The allegations, which included soliciting to commit crimes against nature, led to Wright’s termination six months after he was told that he would be promoted to police chief.
In his closing statement, Dan Hartzog, Jr., a lawyer representing Laurinburg, told the jury that it “did not have to decide (whether Wright’s termination) was right or wrong.”
“You don’t have to decide if (Wright) paid for prostitutes,” Hartzog said.
Rather it was the jury’s responsibility to determine only whether Wright was stigmatized by the lack of a hearing by the city, and whether the city made false accusations against Wright, according to Hartzog.
Hartzog reviewed public statements from former City Manager Craig Honeycutt for the jury, emphasizing that Honeycutt repeatedly refused to comment outside of stating that Wright was being investigated by the SBI.
But Wright’s attorney, Laura Connor, reminded the jury that Honeycutt had also issued a statement that said while the investigation was ongoing, Wright’s employment would be determined by the “the outcome of the SBI investigation.”
According to Connor, Honeycutt suggested that the city would “not make a decision before the outcome … (and that) something criminal has to be found.”
Connor argued that Wright’s reputation was sullied when the city proceeded with Wright’s termination before the investigation had concluded.
“That link makes the false impression that there were criminal behaviors,” Connor said. “Logically why would anyone think (that Wright’s termination) was not linked to criminal findings in that investigation?”
Connor also questioned District Attorney Kristy Newton’s statement that she did not prosecute Wright’s alleged criminal acts because the statute of limitations had expired.
“They would have you believe that the DA blew the statute of limitations,” Connor said, describing Newton as “experienced.”
Connor argued that Newton did not pursue charges because “she did not have witnesses that were credible.”
Connor said the city had several opportunities to offer Wright a name clearing hearing. She said a hearing could have been offered when the SBI turned over its investigation materials to the DA’s office in June of 2008 as well as when the investigation was closed by Newton in September of 2009.
“What about those times?” Connor said. “He was owed a name clearing hearing, and he was not given one.”
Hartzog also took issue with testimony by Wright’s wife during which she said that Wright had sexual performance difficulties of a medical nature. Hartzog questioned why Wright’s attorneys would not call a doctor to testify.
“Mrs. Wright testified that her husband has issues performing sexually, and that is not something that a wife would want to say,” Connor rebutted. “(But) a wife would know.”
Wright’s termination by the city ended his 22 years of service with the Laurinburg Police Department, where he started as an underage police “explorer” while in high school. Wright worked his way through the ranks, serving in dispatch while he was still to young to work as a policeman, before being promoted to chief in 2007.