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Employees file federal complaints against Rocky Mount police chief

Employees file federal complaints against Rocky Mount police chief

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Two Rocky Mount Police Department employees have filed federal discrimination complaints in a continuing dispute centered on the town’s police chief, their attorney said.

The same employees — records manager Regina Stanley, 55, and records clerk Karry Hodges, 38 — were among the three who filed complaints with the town government in April that led to Rocky Mount Police Chief Ken Criner’s monthlong suspension, two weeks of which were without pay.

All three of those employees, including Sgt. David Bowles, 63, the town’s fire marshal, stated in phone interviews that they were not satisfied with the town’s resolution of the matter.

“I do not think it was sufficient,” Stanley said.

Reached by phone Friday, Criner declined to comment, saying he had been advised not to.

The three have retained Roanoke attorney Terry Grimes, who declined to discuss the details of the complaints Stanley and Hodges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the process is confidential.

Grimes provided The Roanoke Times with the texts of the complaints Stanley and Hodges filed with the town. Bowles also shared the text of his complaint with the newspaper. All three allege a hostile work environment and further contain allegations of disparaging, profane comments made to staff members about other employees who were not present at the time.

Grimes characterized the actions described in Hodges’ and Stanley’s complaints as “harassment,” asserting that Stanley “has been harassed as a result of her breast cancer.”

Stanley was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2019 and has had surgery and chemotherapy, according to the narrative in her complaint to the town.

Town Manager James Ervin placed Criner on paid administrative leave April 7 so the three complaints could be investigated by an independent third party. Criner returned to work May 11.

“We brought the best people we could find to bear on conducting a review,” Ervin said. “We’ve reviewed this. We’ve taken action.”

Ervin has declined to elaborate on what action the town took beyond stating that part of Criner’s leave was unpaid.

Criner’s salary is $93,000. Town records supplied in response to a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request by The Roanoke Times show that Criner ordinarily earns $7,169.52 over four weeks. His two paychecks in May added up to $3,584.76, half his usual pay over that time period.

A letter Ervin sent to Stanley about the investigation reads, “The use of an outside party was an effort by the Town to be totally transparent and to show that the Town takes your concerns seriously. This was done at a financial cost to the Town at a time, when frankly, finances are tight because of the issues related to COVID-19.”

Stanley and Bowles said that they were interviewed by Richard Ress of Ress and Associates in Roanoke.

A retired FBI special agent who now works as a private investigator and consultant, Ress was retained by Woods Rogers PLC in Roanoke, the law firm that handled the investigation.

In a May 22 interview, Rocky Mount Town Attorney John Boitnott said the invoices filed by Ress and Woods Rogers up to that date totaled $10,489.18.

Criner joined the Rocky Mount Police Department in 2010 after previously serving with the Roanoke Police Department. He was tapped to become chief in 2014.

Hodges first worked for the police department from 2001 to 2004, returning in 2005 after having a child. Stanley has worked for the department almost 22 years.

Bowles has been an officer with the department since 2000 and before then was a volunteer firefighter for Rocky Mount. He’s been fire marshal for the last four years.

“I’ve always dedicated the best of my ability to my responsibilities as a supervisor,” he said, calling himself “very lucky, very blessed” to be part of the Rocky Mount police force.

“Our morale is about as low as I’ve ever seen in my 20 years,” Bowles said. “I blame the chief.”

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Mike Allen covers government happenings in Franklin County and Botetourt County for The Roanoke Times and also writes the weekly Arts & Extras column.

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