Rocky Mount formally terminated two town police officers who federal authorities have charged with participating in the Jan. 6 riot inside the U.S. Capitol.
In a statement released Tuesday, Town Manager James Ervin declined to provide further details of the firing of former Sgt. Thomas “T.J.” Robertson and former Officer Jacob Fracker.
“We hear those who have communicated their anger and frustration about the actions of these individuals or our response to those actions,” Ervin wrote. “We have treated the process of review seriously from the beginning and thank those who contributed and in coordinating a response in a quick, objective and lawful manner.”
The town had no precedent to refer to for how to deal with this situation, Ervin wrote. “The events of the past few weeks have been challenging for our town, as they have been for the entire nation. The actions by two have driven our beautiful town into the national spotlight in ways that do not reflect our whole community and the people who call Rocky Mount home.”
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In interviews with The Roanoke Times, Robertson has said that he and Fracker received letters of termination from the town Friday, offering them the opportunity to resign before the firing took effect Tuesday.
Reached via text message Tuesday, Fracker declined to comment.
“I plan to contest the termination by all means available,” Robertson wrote Tuesday in an email. He declined to comment further.
According to Ervin, the town paid Robertson a salary of $54,138.76 and Fracker was paid $39,273.26.
On Jan. 13, federal authorities charged Robertson, 47, and Fracker, 29, with a misdemeanor of knowingly entering a restricted building without authority to do so to engage in conduct that disrupts government business; and a petty offense of engaging in disruptive conduct in the Capitol in order to interfere with a session of Congress.
The penalty for the misdemeanor is up to a year in jail. The penalty for the petty offense is up to six months.
In a selfie that Fracker took inside the Capitol Crypt on Jan. 6, Fracker is making an obscene gesture. Robertson is pointing at Fracker while holding a wooden pole.
The men have stated repeatedly in interviews that they did nothing illegal and did not participate in any of the violence that unfolded during the insurrection in the Capitol.
The controversy that Fracker and Robertson lit with the selfie they took inside the Capitol Crypt ignited during an already fraught time for the town of Rocky Mount. Two county activist groups have called for the resignations of Ervin and Police Chief Ken Criner over the town’s response to the officer’s actions.
The town is in fact already in process of hiring a new town manager, as Ervin, who has held the job since 2007, is retiring at the end of April. He announced his plan publicly in September, though his associates in government were aware of his intentions long before.
However, his final year as town manager has ended up being a stormy one. In June 2020, his longtime second in command, Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins, unexpectedly announced his resignation, effective at the end of that month. Aside from his town management duties, Hankins was also the driving force behind the founding of the Harvester Performance Center, the town’s innovative music venue, and he served as the Harvester’s CEO.
Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests filed by a group of county residents and business owners dissatisfied with aspects of how town government runs revealed that Hankins continued to receive his full salary after he left Rocky Mount’s employ, and even after he started work Oct. 19 as assistant county manager for Wythe County at a salary of $98,000.
The payments to Hankins ended Dec. 31, Ervin said. According to town records, Hankins was paid a total of $129,742.27 in 2020. Of that amount, close to half, $59,666.53, was paid after June 30, including $1,200 in hazard pay for the months Hankins was on the job after the pandemic began.
Ervin, Hankins and town council members have all declined to comment on the payments, calling the matter a confidential personnel issue.
Earlier in that year, as a result of an investigation into complaints filed by three Rocky Mount Police Department employees, Ervin placed Criner on administrative leave from April 7 to May 11. Two of those weeks were unpaid leave.
The complaints, filed by records manager Regina Stanley, records clerk Karry Hodges and town fire marshal David Bowles, alleged a hostile work environment and contained allegations of disparaging, profane comments made about employees. The three also filed complaints against the town with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
A former Rocky Mount police officer, Justin Smith, also filed a complaint with the EEOC against the town. He resigned from the department in June.
Bowles, who retired from the Rocky Mount Police Department in October and took a job with Carilion Clinic, said Monday he ultimately decided not to pursue his EEOC case further because of the expense it could entail.
Roanoke attorney Terry Grimes said Monday that Stanley’s, Hodges’s and Smith’s cases with the EEOC are still pending.
At present the Rocky Mount Police Department employs 18 people, Ervin wrote Tuesday in an e-mail. Since the start of 2020, eight officers have departed, including Fracker and Robertson. Of the other six, two have retired and four have resigned, Ervin wrote. An additional officer was hired in 2020 but left soon after joining the force.
The town has recently hired five more officers, Ervin wrote, with three of those currently in training. The town’s three school resource officers have been on street patrol while schools are virtual because of COVID-19. “We are generally keeping platoons full with the school resource officers while we fill vacancies,” Ervin wrote.
“Our officers are held to high standards for how they conduct themselves on and off-duty and we are proud of the dedication and sacrifice made to keeping our community safe,” Ervin wrote in Tuesday’s statement.