Havelock Police Chief David Magnusson said the recent dismissal of a Havelock police officer should not impact public confidence in the department.


Havelock Police Chief David Magnusson said the recent dismissal of a Havelock police officer should not impact public confidence in the department.



Officer Alex Swearer was fired March 31 following an internal personnel investigation conducted by the city. He had been with the department since 2003.



“We have checks and balances in place for all of our officers, from myself on down, and to be quite frank, this situation, we looked into it. Nobody brought it to our attention,” Magnusson said. “The police must be able to police themselves and there must be a very proactive approach to that. Now, the day that that is eroded to where the police are incapable of policing themselves, then I have no doubt that the confidence that the community may have in the police department surely is going to wane without a doubt.”



Magnusson said the termination was based on Swearer’s actions at a traffic stop on Feb. 21. He would not describe what happened during the traffic stop.



The Havelock News has requested the police dash-camera video from the traffic stop, but as of Tuesday the city had refused to release it, citing its investigation into a personnel matter, despite that the personnel matter had been resolved given Swearer’s termination.



“We’re looking at one specific case and that’s what we acted upon,” Magnusson said. “This is something that we do every day. We read reports carefully. We check video and just stay on top of it and I think that’s a good way to do it.



“A lot of times things can be corrected if there are training issues. When things come up, then we deal with them as they come up. Everything has to be above board, and I will tell you that in this police department, that it is.”



District Attorney Scott Thomas said that Swearer’s termination has affected about 31 cases “more or less.” Of those, he said five were driving while impaired cases, 10 are traffic violations, 13 are misdemeanors and three are lower-level felony offenses such as drug charges.



“We have already dismissed some of them if the person is represented by an attorney and they decided they wanted to take a plea to a much lower charge than what we would generally offer, then we would have already disposed of the cases that way,” Thomas said. “In some of the other cases, if they are demanding a trial, since Officer Swearer is no longer available to us as a witness, then we will have no choice other than to dismiss the cases. You can’t convict somebody at trial without a witness for the state.”



Magnusson declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, citing privacy and personnel issues.



“I can’t get into the case or anything like that,” he said. “I can just tell you that it was an administrative decision that was made.”



Swearer, who lives in New Bern, was sent a letter by the city on April 23 informing him that his formal appeal had been denied and that his termination would stand. Swearer’s attorney refused to comment.



In the letter, Havelock City Manager Frank Bottorff said that guidance from the N.C. Attorney General’s office was sought in Swearer’s case regarding “reasonable suspicion” and “voluntary consent to search” concepts applicable to individuals on probation. Bottorff said in the letter that he considered Swearer’s Marine Corps performance evaluations, city personnel file, and the dash-camera video as well as materials provided by Swearer’s attorney.



“Based on my review of all the information available to me and in light your level of experience, I have concluded that your conduct and performance during the February 21, 2015 traffic stop did not meet the level expected from an experienced operational leader and supervisor in the City of Havelock Police Department,” Bottorff wrote in the dismissal letter.



Magnusson said the recent resignation of Officer Bonnie Rogers was not connected to the Swearer case.



“She has nothing to do with it. None whatsoever,” Magnusson said. “That was a decision she made on her own. If she wants to rescind that decision, she’s welcome to stay. She has done a great job here and we are sorry to see her go. There is absolutely no connection.”



Thomas said that Rogers has about 47 cases pending and is expected to testify in all of them.



“She is still available as a witness as far as I know,” he said. “Her resignation was on her own accord and nothing that was required by the police department.”



Thomas, whose district covers Craven, Pamlico and Carteret counties, said the firing of police officers has impacted criminal cases before, but it is infrequent. He cited the recent termination of two Atlantic Beach police officers.



“It’s not often, but it does happen from time to time,” he said.