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Mooresville Police Chief Damon Williams.

Late in 2018, as his own department faced an external investigation and after he had placed three narcotics officers on administrative leave, Mooresville Police Chief Damon Williams was a candidate for the top job at the Rocky Mount Police Department in what became a controversial search.

Williams came to Mooresville in 2016 after serving as police chief in Tarboro, which is just east of Rocky Mount, in eastern North Carolina.

After a months-long search that included $20,000 in work by an outside firm, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney in December reopened the hiring process, the Rocky Mount Telegram reported.

Williams, the paper reported, was one of the candidates considered for the Rocky Mount post in the initial search.

Former Rocky Mount Interim Police Chief Willie Williams, part of a panel that advised Small-Toney on the search, called Williams an “excellent candidate,” the Telegram reported.

The search committee recommended Rocky Mount Police Capt. Marty Clay for the chief’s position before the city manager restarted the search, according to the paper.

“Damon Williams is black,” the Telegram reported. “His unsuccessful bid adds to whispers at City Hall that Small-Toney had already made her choice when she hired the consulting firm, convened the assessor panels and held community input sessions last summer.”

Small-Toney is black. Clay is white.

In Mooresville, the town has launched a new investigation into the working environment at its police department.

Internal concerns prompted the investigation, which is being led by Huntersville-based U.S. ISS Agency LLC, according to a memo to Mooresville Police Department employees from Town Manager David Treme.

Treme issued his memo Feb. 27, two days after abruptly announcing his retirement following a two-hour closed session of town board members.

“It is important that every employee of the department, both sworn and civilian, feels free to bring forward any concerns or issues he or she might have that relates to the working environment within the department,” Treme wrote in the memo. “Please be assured that any employee who speaks truthfully with (investigators) will suffer no retribution or retaliation for coming forward.”

Treme is under contract with the town through August 2020. His retirement is effective June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year. Treme, whose salary is $185,400, will not collect a severance package from the town.

Treme informed the town board Monday, Feb. 25, that he will be unable to work for two weeks due to medical issues. The board called for a special meeting March 1 to appoint an acting town manager in Treme’s absence.

The police department probe is, in part, a response to a recent claim from a high-ranking police official that Mooresville Police Department leadership created a hostile work environment, which, if found to be true, could be classified as workplace harassment.

That employee’s claim came after Williams called late last year for an internal-affairs probe – which led to a more-comprehensive external investigation – into the police department’s narcotics unit, according to department sources.

On Oct. 1, Williams placed three members of the unit on paid administrative leave pending results of the investigations, MPD sources said. Two were brought back on Oct. 17 but were required to continue on administrative duty. A third member of the unit remained on paid leave until all three narcotics officers were reinstated to their positions Dec. 12.

Names of officers are being withheld to protect their identities.

During the same period, Williams was a candidate for the police chief position in Rocky Mount, according to the Rocky Mount Telegram.

The town paid $20,000 for the external probe into the narcotics unit, Treme said. It resulted in a suggestion for policy review. Treme said the town does not have a cost estimate for the current investigation.

Chief Williams remains on full, active duty during the probe. He did not reply to a request for comment.

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