HAMPTON, Va. - There has been much concern expressed recently about the Hampton Police Department undercover operation that centered around trying to stop illegal cigarette purchases and related violent crime. This undercover operation was initially conducted by HPD in concert with the ATF, but continued when the ATF pulled out after the discovery that one of its agents had conducted criminal activity.
This was a very important public safety operation. I have certainly heard the questions some have asked about the need to investigate illegal cigarette sales when there are other, more violent types of crime in communities. Most people do not realize, however, that illegal cigarette sales have been used to finance terrorism activities and that – because of the low risk and high reward associated with these activities – those who have engaged in drug trafficking are now increasingly engaged in illegal cigarette trafficking as well. Indeed, there are other Virginia localities that have engaged such undercover operations. The Richmond Times-Dispatch recently reported on convictions arising from one such operation.
I have no doubt that the operation was undertaken to pursue these legitimate and critical public safety issues, and I applaud our Police Chief and his department for always being vigilant in pursuing emerging crime trends.
However, as you now know, this undercover operation was halted earlier this year. The operation was halted because an HPD officer alleged that his fellow undercover officers were benefiting from misuse of money issued for individual expenses associated with training-related travel. When those allegations were made, the Chief of Police halted the operation and asked the State Police to investigate. The State Police investigated over a period of four months. After reviewing their findings with then-Commonwealth's Attorney John Haugh, no criminal charges were taken.
This point has been lost in much of the dialogue surrounding this operation. I have heard many ask why an external review has not been done. The fact is an external review was done, by the State Police, and it was done at the Chief of Police's request.
Nevertheless, there was concern that – while there were no criminal charges taken – city and HPD policies may have been violated so an internal affairs investigation was launched and continues. We expect to complete this review by the end of October.
As the captain of the ship so to speak, it is my responsibility to get to the bottom of what has happened and, if there were mistakes made, fix what needs to be fixed. I am fully committed to doing so, and to being transparent at the appropriate time.
As the internal affairs investigation has continued, broader questions have surfaced about the genesis of the operation, the continuation of it once the ATF pulled out, the controls put in place to ensure proper procedures were followed, etc. The internal affairs investigation was more focused on the initial allegations – misuse of allocations for travel – and not these broader questions.
As I want to ensure that all angles of this matter are fully vetted and understood, I have directed that several additional reviews be undertaken.
First, I have directed that an external accounting firm be hired to go back and review all transactions that were conducted out of these accounts. We have asked the firm of Cherry, Bekaert & Holland, LLP. to do the work, and expect that they will begin their work within the next several days. They have agreed to work as expeditiously as procedures permit, while still being thorough and complete.
The work of the external financial review should help us to clearly identify how money was spent, what rules/regulations were or were not followed, who signed off on each transaction, etc.
Second, I have decided to hire an external investigator to look more broadly at the operation from its inception to conclusion. To do this review, I have, upon the recommendation of and with the assistance of the City Attorney, hired Bill Hefty, of Hefty & Wiley, PC. Mr. Hefty is an experienced municipal law attorney. He will begin his work effective October 30th and also has committed to complete his work as quickly as possible.
This review will look at the policy development, enforcement, oversight and management of the operation. These broader questions involve the review of actions of multiple people to include the Chief of Police as the chief law enforcement officer who approved the operation. It is in keeping with past organizational practice of placing law enforcement officers whose actions and/or decision-making are under review that the Chief be placed on administrative leave during that investigation.
I must be clear, however, that the decision to place Chief Jordan on administrative leave is in no way meant to convey any pre-determination of wrongdoing on his – or any other officer who remains on administrative leave – part. Indeed, the Chuck Jordan I know is a Chief committed to the
highest principles of integrity and public service. Chief Jordan has served our community with honor and distinction, and has done much to ensure that Hampton becomes a safer community year after year. Rather, administrative leave is used to ensure that a thorough and complete investigation can be conducted without the perception of influence. The administrative leave process is in the best interest of the employee, the organization and the community.
While the external investigation is conducted, former Chief Tommy Townsend will serve as Acting Chief of Police. I am grateful to Chief Townsend for his willingness to step in and fill the void that Chief Jordan's absence will create. Chief Townsend is well known and highly respected throughout the community and the Police Division. I believe his presence will ensure that the day-to-day operations of the Police Division remain strong and effective.
Third, and finally, the City Attorney, in consultation with me, will be asking the Attorney General's Office to render an opinion on various legal issues arising from the undercover operation. When ATF pulled out of the joint operation, HPD sought – and received – a memorandum of understanding from the Commonwealth Attorney's Office that spells out the terms of the continued operation. This document specifically references the churning operation and uses the language that the churning activity is "authorized" to occur. It is reasonable that HPD relied on this MOU as a basis for proceeding with the operation. However, as the internal affairs investigation has progressed, we have searched for specific state enabling language and have not found any. It is important to note that we have also not found any language prohibiting it either. Thus, we believe clear guidance from the Attorney General is needed to answer this and other similar questions. Accordingly, the City Attorney and I agree that a formal opinion of the Attorney General should be sought. We expect to issue the formal request this week.
These reviews – the external investigator, the external audit and the Attorney General review of legal questions – are all essential to ensure that we have a complete, unbiased, independent and total understanding of what happened and what, if anything, needs to be fixed moving forward.
I am fully committed to getting to the bottom of all the questions and concerns that exist. I do, however, ask that we give these external reviewers the time they need to do a proper and thorough inquiry. Only then will we be able to answer definitively all the questions that are being asked by the Council, by the public and by me.
Once we get the reports from these external reviews, I will take any and all necessary actions to:
a. Fully brief the public on the findings
b. Ensure lessons learned are publicized and understood by all
c. Take disciplinary actions, if warranted
In the meantime, I ask for your continued understanding that these investigations take time but that we will ultimately get to the bottom of all that was done – both right and wrong – and will fix that which needs to be fixed.
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