“The allegations have been substantiated.” That statement, drawn from an eight-page report by Chapel Hill Police Chief Gregg Jarvies, sharply summarizes the findings of his department’s internal investigation into a teenager’s claim that Detective John Moore “misrepresented himself as an agent of an FBI task force” while probing computer problems at Chapel Hill High School on May 2.
The report, which also describes actions and statements by two other police officers involved in computer crime cases, was prompted by a May 28 report in The Independent. It was released late Monday night when, in a rare move, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted to publicly disclose the investigation and related personnel decisions. In the document, Jarvies concludes that “Moore’s behavior was unacceptable, was in direct violation of department policies, and is representative of detrimental personal conduct.” In addition, Jarvies wrote that, “In my opinion, Moore’s actions on May 2 were not consistent with federal law,” and included as an addendum to his report the law against impersonating government agents.
Consequently, the report reveals, Jarvies decided to fire Moore, a 12-year veteran of the police force. But Moore pre-empted the chief, Jarvies reports: “On the morning of June 5, as I was presenting a termination notice to Moore, he tendered his resignation.”
The problems began when Moore and a second police officer, Bryan Walker, wore shirts with FBI insignia on them during a visit to the school to question Erin Carter, a 17-year-old junior. Carter was questioned because she had written about rumors that the school’s computer network had been hacked in her Web log, or “blog,” an online journal she launched last December. Investigators later determined that a technical glitch, rather than a hacking, was to blame for the network problem.
While it was Moore who gave Carter a bogus business card that identified him as a “task force agent” of an FBI “Cyber Crime Task Force,” Walker is also faulted for leaving the impression that the officers were federal agents, and doing nothing to dispel that notion. Jarvies sanctioned Walker by ordering a 10-day suspension without pay beginning June 6, the report says.
A third officer mentioned in the report, Steve Anson, is a Chapel Hill police employee who heads the department’s information technology work. Anson, unlike Moore and Walker, is in fact on the FBI’s statewide Cyber Crime Task Force. Jarvies’ report clears Anson of any wrongdoing in the case, and notes that Anson tried to dissuade Moore from using the “FBI identification card” that was “manufactured by Moore.” A week or two before the high school computer investigation, the report says, Anson “told Moore that the use of the card would not be appropriate” and urged him “not to use the cards and to discard them.”
But Moore used the card anyway, leaving many to wonder why an experienced police officer would feign FBI ties. Both Moore and Walker applied in April to join the FBI task force, but neither had been assigned to it. The report offers a clue to another possible motive, noting that both officers told department officials “that they believed that any direct or passing mention of a relationship with the FBI would increase the likelihood that Ms. Carter would give information to them.”
The report clears up the question of where Moore got the “FBI” card, but what of the shirts, which also left the impression that the officers were affiliated with the FBI? “The shirts had been purchased while the officers had attended FBI-sponsored training,” the report says. “There is no evidence to indicate that the wearing of the shirts was anything other than a coincidence.” That’s what police investigators told Erin Carter during the internal probe, she says, that Moore and Walker just happened to wear the same shirt on a “casual Friday.”
Such unfortunate accidents shouldn’t occur any more, owing to a recent police department policy change that Jarvies told the Town Council about on Monday. “They have instituted a new dress code, to make sure that people don’t think that anybody who represents the Chapel Hill police department is representing another law enforcement agency,” says Councilman Mark Kleinschmidt, one of the more vocal civil rights advocates in town government.
Kleinschmidt is impressed by the thoroughness and results of the investigation. “I think the chief has done what he needs to do,” he said Tuesday. “When you look at that report, I think it’s a unique document. It’s just not the sort of thing you would see from probably any other police department that I’ve ever heard of. It’s very open, and [Jarvies] actually makes himself and his department very vulnerable in releasing a document that is so frank. And I think the report sends a clear message that these kinds of actions are not going to be tolerated.”
Kleinschmidt also lauded the role that the whistle-blowing civilian, Erin Carter, played in the case. “What she did reflected well on our town. I’m really proud of her, and the fact that she was clearly knowledgeable about the situation. I was proud of the questions she asked, the fact that she kept the information. And now we were able to discover this renegade activity through the vigilance of a typical Chapel Hill citizen.”
Carter was unavailable for comment on the latest developments–on Tuesday she was en route to Nicaragua, where she’ll spend three weeks on a Witness for Peace travel program. Meanwhile, the story of how her online journal set off a controversy is beginning to echo around the “blogosphere,” as other blog publishers throughout the United States and in other countries link to news reports on the case and write their own commentaries about what happened.
The Chapel Hill police department’s investigation of the matter is complete, but it remains to be seen if federal authorities will look into the case. On Monday, Lynn Klauer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Greensboro, refused to confirm or deny if either Moore or Walker is under investigation for impersonating a federal agent.