National, state police groups support fired Durham officer’s N.C. Supreme Court case
- The Fraternal Order of Police backs fired Durham police sergeant Michael Mole' in his N.C. Supreme Court against the city.
- Mole' says the city violated his constitutional rights when it fired him after a controversial 2016 hostage negotiation.
The national and state Fraternal Order of Police groups are backing a fired Durham police sergeant in his case against the city at the N.C. Supreme Court.
The police groups label the firing “shameful” and an “obviously arbitrary and capricious decision.”
Michael Mole’ is challenging the city’s decision to fire him after a controversial 2016 hostage negotiation. Mole’ had allowed a suspect to smoke a marijuana blunt after the man surrendered to authorities.
“When faced with a suicidal and potentially homicidal suspect, armed with a gun and barricaded, an officer is under immense pressure to reach a peaceful resolution,” according to a friend-of-the-court brief submitted Tuesday by the national and state FOP. “When an officer accomplishes such a resolution after exhaustive negotiations in an incredibly unpredictable environment, and everyone — including the officer, fellow officers, the suspect, and the neighboring public — walks away unharmed, that officer should be commended. Yet, incredibly, this case demonstrates just the opposite.”
“The City of Durham terminated Sergeant Mole’ for successfully negotiating a surrender agreement under these exact circumstances,” the brief continued. “Upholding such irrational action provides unbounded power to governmental employers to act arbitrarily against their officers.”
“[P]olice officers deserve the right to be treated reasonably by their employers,” according to the brief. “This case can stand to safeguard officers’ rights. As the community relies on officers to respond on behalf of crisis situations, an officer, in turn, must be able to rely on their employer not to terminate them for producing a successful resolution. Without such a balance, the mission of policing is compromised.”
“Sergeant Mole’ successfully protected the suspect, his fellow officers, himself, and the general public from a suicidal individual with a gun,” according to the FOP. “No one was injured. However, he was terminated by his employer for his methods — none of which violated the City’s policies — over the course of a two-hour negotiation.”
The state’s highest court agreed in March to take the case. A trial judge had dismissed Mole’s initial complaint. But a unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals revived Mole’s lawsuit last October.
While rejecting most of the fired officer’s arguments, appeals judges agreed he should be allowed to continue his case under Article I, Section 1 of the N.C. Constitution. It guarantees that people in this state have the right to “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.”
Mole’ is appealing the dismissal of his other claims. He says Durham violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law. He also claims more than one violation of the “fruits of their own labor” clause.
Meanwhile, the city urges the state Supreme Court to reject all of Mole’s arguments.
In June 2016, Mole’ was called in as a police hostage negotiator. He spoke for two hours with Julius Smoot. Smoot had threatened to shoot himself while barricaded in an apartment bedroom.
“During this time, Smoot said he planned to smoke a ‘blunt,’ a marijuana cigarette,” according to the Appeals Court opinion in the case. “Sergeant Mole’, reluctant to allow an armed and barricaded subject to impair his mental state, asked Smoot to refrain. Sergeant Mole’ promised Smoot that if he disarmed and peacefully surrendered, he would be allowed to smoke the blunt.”
“Smoot then dropped his gun, handcuffed himself, and surrendered to Sergeant Mole’ in the apartment,” the opinion continued. “Still in handcuffs, Smoot asked for his pack of legal tobacco cigarettes and lighter, which were on a nearby table, and Sergeant Mole’ handed those items to him. Smoot then pulled a marijuana blunt from behind his ear, lit it with the lighter, and smoked approximately half of it.”
Durham police investigated Mole’s actions. Four months after the incident, his supervisors gave him one day’s notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing. Departmental policy required three days’ notice. After the hearing, Mole’s immediate supervisors recommended a reprimand. Durham fired him instead.
Mole’ filed suit against the city in November 2018.
The 2021 Appeals Court decision did not order Durham to give Mole’ his job back. Appellate judges would have sent the case back to a trial court.
There’s no deadline for a Supreme Court decision in the case.