Tommy Wright has always said that he wanted “his day in court.”
This week the former Laurinburg police officer got three days in federal court to explain why he thinks he was wrongfully terminated after becoming the target of a State Bureau of Investigation probe involving prostitutes.
Wright is suing the city of Laurinburg for back wages for the past three years and unspecified damages. He also wants to be reinstated as police chief.
“I’m hopeful that we will prevail,” Wright said outside the federal courtroom in Greensboro Wednesday. “All along I felt that I should have been heard and been able to face my accusers. Now I’ve had that opportunity.”
The jury of four women and three men are expected to begin deliberations after closing arguments this morning. The trial began on Monday.
Wright was a 22-year veteran of Laurinburg police when he was promoted to chief in March 2007.
Former Laurinburg City Manager Craig Honeycutt testified Wednesday that before the new chief could be sworn in, the city was contacted by the Scotland County District Attorney’s office about an investigation into Wright.
Honeycutt said he was told that Wright had been involved in soliciting prostitution.
“We could not swear him in because of the allegations hanging out there,” Honeycutt told the jury.
On Sept. 7, 2007, Honeycutt informed Wright that he was going to be fired due to “substantial evidence” of criminal activities. Wright appealed the decision to fire him, but it was denied by Honeycutt later that month.
Honeycutt told the court Wednesday that he initially placed Wright on paid leave because the allegation was “basically he said, she said.” He told the jury that he later learned from investigators that there were six women making similar allegations against Wright.
“After seven months and six additional women, it was time go ahead and make a decision,” Honeycutt said of the firing. “It was time to move forward. There was enough to suggest that even if these were not crimes, they certainly constituted conduct that was unbecoming of an officer.”
But Wright argues in his lawsuit that he was never informed of the nature of the allegations against him or why it took more than three years to conclude that no charges would be filed.
District Attorney Kristy Newton testified on Wednesday that investigators could not share information with Wright because it was part of on-going investigation. She said there was sufficient evidence to support some misdemeanor offenses, but the two-year statute of limitations had expired.
Newton said the possible misdemeanors included misconduct of a public official and soliciting to commit crimes against nature.
Also testifying Wednesday were SBI agent John Crawford who told the jury that he interviewed about 25 people as part of the investigation. The agent said when he tried to interview Wright, his attorney at the time would not let the police officer speak to investigators.
Crawford said the allegations against Wright appeared to be credible.
Wright’s lawyers have suggested that the women making the allegations were either drug users or had extensive criminal records.
John Joseph, an investigator with District Attorney, told the court that Wright had called him in March 2007 to set up a meeting with Newton. He said that Wright wanted a deal that would allow him to resign in exchange for the charges being dropped. Joseph said the DA’s office declined to meet with Wright.
Wright denied ever making that request.
“I had asked to meeting to see what this was all about,” Wright testified. “This was something that I had worked for for 22 years. I didn’t do anything wrong. There was never any admission on my part that I had done anything wrong. That was totally not what our conversation consisted of.”