The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

July 24, 2013

Former police chief suing Princeville


PRINCEVILLE — PRINCEVILLE — Former police chief Gary Foxx has filed a lawsuit in Edgecombe County Superior Court against the Town of Princeville for wrongful termination.

Foxx is seeking $10,000 plus "punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury."

Foxx was fired March 30, 2011 by Chief Joey Petway "for poor performance," according to the lawsuit document. In less than a six months span, Foxx, who, in a 22-year span, had climbed to the highest ranking law officer in the town, was demoted from chief to lieutenant to sergeant and then terminated. Petway was hired in December 2010 to replace Foxx.

The lawsuit alleges the town imposed the disciplinary actions against Foxx because he refused to sign an affidavit on Nov. 17, 2010 defending the town against a lawsuit that was filed by town commissioner Gwen Knight.

Knight sued the town for $450 (her three-month stipend). The town argued that Knight broke an anti-disruption policy and fined her $450 for doing so.

The anti-disruption policy was passed by a 3-2 vote. Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates and commissioners Calvin Sherrod and Isabelle Purvis-Andrews voted for the policy while Knight and commissioner Ann Howell voted against it.

During the town's September 2011 meeting, Knight was said to have violated the policy, according to the Foxx's lawsuit. Soon afterward, Foxx was asked to sign an affidavit that pertained to Knight's alleged violation, but he refused.

According to the suit, town officials attempted to force Knight to sign the affidavit. The suit states  ... "While on conference call with (former) Attorney (Charles) Watts and Mayor Everette-Oates, Plaintiff Foxx was told that he "better sign that or you will suffer the consequences."

Foxx again refused, saying the affidavit contained false information and signing it would be an act of perjury.

In February 2011, Foxx was demoted for "not doing his job" because an officer under his supervision was accused of misconduct, the lawsuit states. That officer was later cleared of wrongdoing by the SBI. One month later, Petway fired Fox. Howell and Knight were opposed Foxx's termination.

Foxx walked away quietly and later hired attorney Brad Hill of Raleigh.

"I think this is a cut and dry issue," said Hill. "We plan to operate within the law and get the same treatment that was handed down in the case of Sides vs. Duke University. We hope to get the same treatment."

Town Attorney Ben Brewington said he could not comment on the lawsuit because "the matter is currently pending in litigation."

Foxx's lawsuit will be the third the town has been involved in since Everette-Oates took office in 2009. In 2010, the town sued a former museum director for removing items from the museum and then Knight's lawsuit for her stipend. Under the guidance of former town attorney Charles Watts, the cases were heard first in small claims court and then appealed to higher courts. The town lost both cases.

Terminating employees has also been a common occurrence in recent years. Ten employees, including two town managers and two attorneys were fired. Watts was fired twice.

Also during that span, the entire planning board was terminated and the entire housing authority board was terminated twice with the exception of one member.

Only one termination went before the board — the board voted 3-2 to terminate the law firm of Ward & Smith with Howell and Knight voting in the minority.