Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers and former Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Edward Melvin may have served side by side during Rogers’ first two months as sheriff, but on many things the two don’t see eye to eye. That fact is now crystal clear after Melvin, who resigned suddenly earlier in February after serving just over two months under Rogers, agreed to speak with the Rhino Times regarding a number of key issues that have been the subject of a great deal of public debate in recent months.
Melvin has remained silent about his experience under Rogers until now, but his new statements make it clear that he and Rogers have a dramatically different take on multiple key matters including whether the administration of former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes strived to be helpful during the transition, whether the previous administration practiced racially based promotion policies, and whether an initial mass firing and related promotion practices were good for the department. There are other major points of contention between the former sheriff and the current one as well that Melvin was willing to comment on when asked.
Melvin, who was picked by Rogers for that role as the second in command of the department before he resigned suddenly in February, said there has been a lot of public controversy and argument as to whether Barnes and Barnes’ administration attempted to be helpful during the transition after Barnes lost the election, and Melvin said the top officials under Barnes did attempt to help in the transition but Rogers declined to accept those offers.
“I can’t speak for everyone there, but I can tell you what I saw in my case,” said Melvin who had a good overall view of things as the second highest ranked person in the department.
Melvin said that when he interacted with outgoing officials, there was a great deal of concern from them about having a smooth transition and maintaining services to the public and he said they were willing in the interest of public safety to help Rogers, himself, and the other new people coming into the department. But he said that Rogers – who’s been a huge critic of Barnes for years – wanted nothing to do with Barnes or his former administrators and therefore didn’t accept those offers to help new staff get acclimated to the department.
Melvin said the help was especially needed after the mass firing of many long-time top officials; however, he said, Rogers felt he knew enough about running a Sheriff’s Department that he needed no help at all from the outgoing administration in that regard.
Melvin said that, to take one example, former Guilford County Sheriff’s Department Colonel Randy Powers, the second in command under Barnes, came to him and offered to help in any way he could and also offered to stay on longer and show him the ropes. Melvin said that he, Melvin, thought that made sense and he conveyed that offer to Rogers, who was not interested in that or in other offers of aid.
“Danny didn’t want that help,” Melvin said.
Powers account is identical to that of Melvin. Powers said he told Melvin that it was very important to maintain the smooth operation of the department during the transition and he said he would help to give them an understanding of where everything was and how the department currently operated.
“I offered to stay and help them,” Powers said. “I told them, ‘There’s a lot to know.”
He said he was very concerned because he knew it would be hard to take over the operation without any basic understanding of how it was currently being run.
Powers said that Rogers simply wanted everything that remotely had Barnes’ stamp on it gone. Powers said Rogers seemed more interested in dismantling anything Barnes had ever put in place than in learning how the department operated. Powers added that that caused him a great deal of concern.
“These were proven systems,” he said, citing a major decline in crime over the years as the various parts had been put in place.
“We put together a lot of programs and the programs were working and he was throwing them out,” he said.
Powers also said other top officers, like him, while obviously disappointed in the outcome of the election, were willing to help as well but Rogers wanted to completely distance himself from Barnes and Barnes’ top staff.
Powers said Melvin seemed displeased over Roger’s decision and said that Melvin came to him, Powers, after he had spoken with Rogers about the offer of help and Melvin just shook his head to Powers – as to say that he would appreciate the help but there was nothing he could do since Rogers would not allow it.
Powers said it was alarming the extent to which Rogers felt as if he knew everything there was to know about the department the first day even though he’d just walked in the door.
On another matter, Melvin said that he did not find signs of the much-claimed endemic racism in the previous promotion practices under the Barnes’ administration. He said that one issue seemed to be that some minority employees had the belief that they would not be promoted and therefore did not take the steps necessary to get on the promotion track.
“I think some of them may have had that impression and so they didn’t take the steps they needed to,” Melvin said.
In that sense, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy – though, Melvin didn’t use that phrase.
He said that after he came on board he encouraged them to take steps needed to put oneself on a promotion track.
Melvin said that he was extremely impressed with the men and women in the department and he said he enjoyed working with them a great deal during his time there and had a great deal of respect for the job they do.
A response to Melvin’s claims sent to the Rhino Times by Guilford County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Max Benbassat began: “I am confused as to why we continue to give the former Sheriff a voice. We’re a little over four months in office and we are still having to entertain what Barnes, who was fired by the voters, and his loyalist says.”
Of course, while Melvin is in agreement with Barnes on many of these matters, Melvin is not a Barnes loyalist – in fact, he was the man handpicked by Rogers to be the second most powerful law enforcement officer in Guilford County government and the one Rogers hired to help “remedy” what Barnes had done for over two decades.
Benbassat wrote, “We will continue to correct his [Barnes’] attempts to dismantle this office and anyone else being recruited to do the same.”
“Barnes never reached out himself to offer any assistance and his staff members demanded that they stay on board in their same positions with the same pay in order to provide transitional information,” he wrote. “Rik Stevens, one of the Sheriff’s Office former attorneys, did share information and assist with the Personnel & Training Commanders with having deputy sheriff’s sworn into office.”
He continued, “As such, this is required in order for deputy sheriffs to continue their duties with sworn powers of arrest. The attorney also provided Sheriff Rogers with case information as he inherited a multitude of lawsuits that had been filed against former Sheriff Barnes in his official capacity that are now the responsibility of Sheriff Rogers. Any department matters were communicated by the commanders remaining on the job, but not by Barnes or his team after it was clear they would not remain hired on in their positions. That said, it’s clear the focus was not on the citizens of Guilford County and their best interest, but rather the self-interest of those giving ultimatums in exchange for transitional information. In addition, Sheriff Rogers had already decided who his top administrators were going to be coming into office and there was no salary to pay for two people in the same positions.”
It should be noted that there was a good deal of salary money that had been suddenly freed up by the fact that Rogers’ first act as sheriff was to fire over 25 department employees and also there were a good deal of vacancies in addition to those – and there was therefore at the time a lot of salary money available in the budget.
“Now let’s define help,” Benbassat wrote. “‘Help’ would have been former Sheriff Barnes meeting with Sheriff Rogers to say, ‘Here is a look at my calendar for events I have already committed this position to. Here are the boards I have agreed to sit on as the Sheriff of Guilford County. Here is the budget and expenditures I have planned for the remainder of this year that may cause concern since I have greatly exceeded amounts in the past. Here is the DNA program you may want to review where we have spent more than half a million dollars from our budget (taxpayers’ dollars) to date and this is the reason it is not accredited while only being used to identify or rule out 7 suspects in the past 33 months. Here are the meetings I have already scheduled that you may want to look at in the event it conflicts with anything you have planned. Here are the attrition rate concerns that I have had causing me to provide an incentive of giving employees $500 to recruit family members and friends to apply.’ Etc.”
Barnes said late last year that he had a meeting scheduled with Rogers to help in the transition matters but Rogers did not show up. Rogers said that no such meeting was ever scheduled.
Benbassat, speaking on behalf of the department, stated that – rather than help – Barnes and his staff did everything they could to impede a smooth transition.
He wrote: “The offices were wiped out with computers removed in what was said a to be routine updates that was ironically only needed for the positions of those employees in high-ranked positions who were not being retained by Sheriff Rogers. Desk drawers were cleaned out down to the paperclips with only food stains and sticky candy residue left behind. Papers from files were shredded and no templates of human resources documents left causing the newly promoted human resources coordinator to re-create everything from scratch with the aid of Guilford County Human Resources representatives. These are just a few examples.”
Roger’s made similar claims publically at a meeting of the Summerfield Town Council earlier this year.
Guilford County Internal Audit conducted an investigation in response to those claims and that report was obtained by the Rhino Times through a public records request. The report states: “Internal Audit substantiated that documents were shredded; however, it appears that these documents were personal in nature (e.g., applications for Sheriff Association membership) or duplicates of official County documents held elsewhere (e.g., PA52 forms held in HR).”
The Internal Audit report also stated, “The volume of shredded documents appears to have not significantly increased during the transition per cleaning staff.”
As for computers, according to the report, “Internal Audit confirmed that computers for the new Administration’s Command Staff were removed; these computers were secured within the Sheriff’s Offices. These computers were removed to facilitate the installation of new/updated machines, per standard Sheriff’s Office computer usage practices.”
One high-ranking Guilford County official who was briefed on the audit report in a closed session said that Rogers only thought the computers were missing.
“The computers were placed exactly where they should have been during a time of transition, but Danny and his staff couldn’t find them because they had fired everyone who knew how to run the place,” that county official said.
As for the promotion of minorities, Benbassat stated that there’s obvious empirical evidence of preferential treatment by Barnes based on race.
“It’s also very interesting that the topic of blacks being promoted in the two separate career paths at the Sheriff’s Office under Barnes would dare be mentioned considering over two decades of history where a minute number of blacks were only promoted in detention and less than the count of one hand were promoted as deputy sheriffs,” he wrote.
According to Benbassat, from 1994 to 2018, in the 24 years under Barnes, “only 33 black officers were promoted in the less desirable career path of detention services and 4 black officers were promoted on patrol with only one supervising deputy on the street after EEOC complaints and federal lawsuits were filed in 2014.”
“Several black officers for a number of years who were allowed to be on the promotional list were not chosen while others were told they did not pass the test, but then was not allowed to see their scores,” he wrote. “That would be the same as a teacher stating students didn’t pass their final exam and in essence could not move to the next grade but when asked to see the test, the students are told they cannot. Why? In response, EEOC complaints brought about changes requiring Barnes to hire an outside agency to conduct the promotional testing for the entire agency and allow officers to see their test scores – a practice that had not taken place until 2015. So of course blacks became discouraged but they stayed the course. Now, how anyone could describe this as a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ is ludicrous while tapping on the shoulder of gaslighting. The hiring practices are another full discussion of discrimination by the prior administration that is evident in the numbers.”
In summary, Benbassat stated, Sheriff Rogers is proud to announce that a positive change has occurred and the culture of the organization has changed.
He also stated, “There is currently greater diversity and detention officers and deputy sheriffs are given the same opportunities for advancement on either side of the house, while civilian employees are recognized for their worth.”
“Sheriff Rogers is proud of this agency and he is pleased with the decisions he made coming into office and those he has had to make after he arrived,” Benbassat wrote.