Greensboro’s Most Notorious Cop

To Take Charge



July 3, 2014

It was a standard notification from the Greensboro Police Department stating that Police Chief Ken Miller would be out of town and in his absence Deputy Chief James Hinson would be acting chief.


The idea that Hinson would be in control of the entire Police Department in Greensboro is disturbing because Hinson has a disturbing history as a police officer.


Hinson was at the center of a firestorm of controversy that resulted in Police Chief David Wray being forced to resign and the resignation or retirement of the entire police command staff, with the exception of then Assistant Chief Tim Bellamy, who became chief.


The event that precipitated the controversy, which eventually also resulted in the firing of then Greensboro City Manager Mitch Johnson, was that Hinson, then a police lieutenant, found a tracking device on his police patrol car.  What Hinson didn’t know at the time and wasn’t revealed to the public until New York Times best-selling author Jerry Bledsoe investigated the whole affair and wrote a 92-part series for the now defunct Rhinoceros Times was that Hinson also had a GPS tracking device placed on his car that recorded the exact location of his patrol car at all times.


Police lieutenants have a good amount of freedom in their activities, but they are supposed to be doing police work while on duty.  The trackers had been placed on Hinson’s car for a couple of reasons.  To investigate reports that Hinson was doing off-duty work while on duty, and, more importantly, for the second time Hinson’s personal cell phone number had been found in the possession of a major drug dealer in Greensboro.  And as the Police Department knew, the numbers were not there because of any police related activity.


The first time Hinson’s phone number was found in the safe of Elton Turnbull after Turnbull was arrested for cocaine possession.  The explanation was that Hinson had sold a house to Turnbull.  But the situation was far more complicated than that.  Hinson and Turnbull shared a girlfriend named Toshia Withers, who rented a house from Hinson and then became involved with Turnbull.  Withers, when questioned by police, admitted that she knew Turnbull was a drug dealer and law enforcement documents show that Withers worked for Turnbull ferrying money.


Turnbull was not a small time dealer and he had big problems laundering money, as big drug dealers do.  In 2002, Turnbull met with two US Customs Service agents who were pretending to be money launderers.  Turnbull told the agents that he needed to launder at least $200,000 per week.  Turnbull, according to federal investigators, took over the drug operation of James Spencer Springette while Springette was in jail in Columbia on drug charges.  Springette later escaped and was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list before being recaptured, convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term.


So Turnbull was no small time operator, and after he was arrested Withers admitted to police that she operated as a courier for Turnbull while she was also having a sexual affair with Hinson, who also admitted to the affair.  Their testimony, however, differed when it came to having sex.  Withers told police that they had sex in Hinson’s patrol car and when he was in uniform.  Hinson denied this and said they only had sex when he was off duty.


Turnbull, when being interrogated, said that Hinson was never involved in his organization and never provided him with any information, which according to others is likely because they said there was good deal of animosity between the two because of Withers.


However, Withers also testified that Hinson knew what Turnbull did for a living.  And when Hinson sold Turnbull the house Withers was living in, it is hard to believe that Hinson didn’t know where Turnbull got the money to buy the house.   Turnbull reportedly said he got the money from selling a racehorse in Florida.  Here was a man who was supposed to be operating a lawn care business and he admitted owning racehorses in Florida.  That should raise red flags for anyone, particularly a police officer.


It was the second time Hinson’s personal cell phone number was found in the possession of a major drug dealer that led to the tracking devices being placed on his patrol car.  The drug dealer was Sean Watson, and on April 8, 2005, a DEA agent called the Greensboro Police Department to inform them that in an examination of Watson’s phone it had been discovered that Hinson’s personal cell phone number had been programmed into the phone.  Watson had been arrested in February by federal agents for possessing and selling large amounts of cocaine.


When questioned, Watson said that Hinson had approached him about making a donation for some organization to help kids and he had put Hinson’s number in the phone.  Watson also told the investigating officers that Hinson was close to another drug dealer named Shawn Marshall, who was at that time in federal prison.


That discovery, plus the fact that Hinson had been reported to be working off-duty jobs while on duty and the fact that Bellamy, then an assistant chief, had said he thought he saw Hinson driving an unmarked police car he was not authorized to be driving in a part of town where Hinson had no good reason to be, led to the tracking device being placed on Hinson’s police patrol car, which he was only supposed to be operating while on duty doing police work.  The tracking device was a low-tech device that would only pick up the car within two miles.  The detective who was following Hinson still had trouble locating him when he was on duty and supposed to be in his police district, so the GPS device was installed.


During that time Hinson submitted an off-duty work sheet for working at a Harris Teeter for three-and-a-half hours when he was, according to the police work schedule, on duty.


The GPS tracking device also showed that Hinson, frequently while on duty, visited a residence hall at UNCG where a company he operated, Secure Cleaning, had a contract.  According to information from the tracking device, eight of these visits ranged from four to 18 minutes, but twice he was there for nearly an hour.  He also made five visits to the home of Gayle Brooks, who was described in police reports as his girlfriend.  Four of those visits while on duty averaged about an hour, and one was for two minutes.


Also during the time the tracker was on his car Hinson drove from home to off-duty jobs 18 times.


Police Chief Miller has said that he is well aware of Hinson’s past activities and none of it bothers him.


Next week: A report on some of the many organizations that Hinson has started over the years and some of the problems with them.


This article is based on The Cops in Black & White series originally published in The Rhinoceros Times by Jerry Bledsoe, Parts 7 through 13.  If you would like to read more about the adventures of Deputy Police Chief James Hinson, those seven installments are below.






City Calendar


Not many people went to both the Berger campaign event at the downtown Marriott on Tuesday night and the Walker campaign celebration at Life Community Church on Wendover Avenue.


To say it was like night and day would not adequately describe the difference in the two events.


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