Some of the employees purged from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office had prior run-ins with the new administration.
Shortly before Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers took office in December, he made waves by announcing the terminations of 25 employees, although the new administration charged that the reaction was largely manufactured by outgoing sheriff BJ Barnes.
A handful of the dismissals affected members of the command staff, and Barnes conceded it’s not uncommon for new sheriffs to surround themselves with a hand-picked leadership team. But at least two of the fired rank-and-file employees — one in detention and the other in patrol — hold notable backstories.
“Any new administration that comes into office evaluates their staff and decides who is best to pursue the vision of the new administration,” said Catherine Netter, the new executive administrative officer under Sheriff Rogers. “I fully expect that if the people of Guilford County don’t re-elect Danny Rogers in four years, I and many other people in his administration will not have a job.” Rogers declined to comment for this story.
Among 14 full-time employees dismissed by Rogers was Barnes’ second in command, Col. Randy Powers, who served as chief deputy. Rogers replaced Powers with Steve Parr, who unsuccessfully challenged Barnes in the Republican primary. Rogers also dismissed Major Jonathan Jacobs, a 42-year veteran on the force who oversaw the operations bureau, and Major Jeffrey Rollins, a 28-year veteran who oversaw the court services bureau.
And among 11 retiree callbacks who worked part time, the new sheriff fired Debora Montgomery and Chuck Williamson, both majors who ran the jails, one after the other. Barnes said Montgomery and Williamson both worked on a re-entry program, and Montgomery helped the sheriff’s office revise its policies and procedures.
The firing of retiree call-backs also included Gary Hastings, who joined the sheriff’s office in 2011 after retiring from the Greensboro Police Department as a deputy chief. Barnes said Hastings had been working on the sheriff’s office’s cold-case files.
Capt. Gary McDaniel, an employee with 49 years of experience who headed the bailiff section, voluntarily retired on Nov. 30, three days before the effective dismissal date of the other 24 employees, who lost their jobs when Rogers took office. Barnes said McDaniel made it known he didn’t intend to work for Rogers.
“He did a heck of a job,” Barnes said. “You can ask the visiting judges. They loved coming here…. Gary could get things done and did them in an efficient manner.”
Tanya Roach, a human resources coordinator with eight years of experience, also lost her job. The remaining full-time employees who were forced out include six detention staff members, ranking from officers up to lieutenants; two patrol members, including a sergeant; and a deputy assigned to the bailiff section.
Bettina Vredenburg, one of the detention officers fired by Rogers, kept her job under the Barnes administration even though she was charged with misdemeanor larceny after admitting to stealing about $500 worth of merchandise from JC Penney in Winston-Salem while working a second job as a loss-prevention officer. According to an administrative law document prepared for a hearing to determine whether her justice-officer certification would be revoked, Vredenburg approached the store manager and admitted to taking the merchandise. She was charged with misdemeanor larceny on Jan. 3, 2011, but less than two months later the charge was dismissed, and a year later Vredenburg obtained a court order to expunge the charge. According to the document, the sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation and Vredenburg was placed on one-year probation.
The commission noted that Vredenburg “went through some serious health issues” in 2010 and 2011 that resulted in her taking six weeks leave from the sheriff’s office in its finding in her favor.
Major Debora Montgomery and Capt. Eddie Maness testified on Vredenburg’s behalf at her hearing before the NC Sheriff’s Education and Training Standards Commission in 2012.
“She was very up-front about it,” Barnes said. “She was given her disciplinary [sanction], and she proved herself to be a capable employee. People make mistakes. She made a mistake. It was not a mistake she tried to hide. I gave her an opportunity and she proved herself worthy.”
In 2014, Vredenburg was assaulted by an inmate facing a homicide charge, and received injuries that required medical treatment at High Point Regional Hospital, WFMY News 2 reported. Vredenburg could not be reached for comment for this story.
The sheriff’s office’s handling of Vredenburg’s disciplinary case is cited in a pending civil rights lawsuit filed against Barnes by a shift lieutenant at the High Point jail who was fired in December 2016. The federal lawsuit filed by Terry Hairston II includes dozens of examples alleged to show “a pattern of discrimination” under Barnes. Without mentioning Vredenburg by name, the suit references a white officer charged with larceny for shoplifting from JC Penney, while suggesting that the sheriff’s office treated the infraction with leniency.
“For more than 20 years, Sheriff Barnes discriminated against minority employees, and no one was interested in reporting that,” Netter said. “But now he has cried about policies and decisions the new sheriff has made, we are continuously answering questions to the sheriff who lost the election.”
Netter added that her comments about alleged discrimination do not reflect on the employees who were fired by Sheriff Rogers.
Barnes has denied that the sheriff’s office discriminated against black employees under his administration, although he acknowledged that the agency voluntarily discontinued a practice of using credit history as a screening tool for job applicants after the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that it disproportionately hurt black applicants.
One of two patrol officers fired by Rogers, Deputy James Sykes was involved in a traffic accident with Catherine Netter in March 2014.
“He did absolutely nothing wrong,” Barnes said.
Court records indicate that Netter was a passenger in vehicle driven by Waseem Abdul-Haqq that allegedly struck a 2000 GM Sierra truck owned by Deputy Sykes. Abdul-Haqq was charged with misdemeanor hit and run, while Netter was charged with misdemeanor aid and abet hit and run, with the charging document alleging that she failed to notify “law enforcement officials by the quickest means possible while the defendant was a passenger.” Charges were eventually dismissed against both.
Barnes said both Abdul-Haqq and Netter denied that Abdul-Haqq’s vehicle hit Sykes’ truck.
“They both denied it, but it was on video,” Barnes said. “They didn’t feel they hit the truck, but you can clearly see in the video that the truck moved, and they got out and looked at it. She told me later on that she intended on doing something later, and never did.”
Netter declined to comment on the incident, as did Sykes.
“All that’s over with and it won’t get me anywhere,” Sykes said. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Asked if she had any involvement in evaluating employees to determine who should be fired, Netter said, “The sheriff made his decision on his own.”
Despite the eventual dismissal of the charge against Netter, it would prove to have far-reaching consequences for her career in law enforcement.
Then a detention services supervisor at Greensboro Jail Central, Netter was told in November 2014 that she could not take a test for promotion because of a disciplinary action due to the traffic citation, even though the charge had been dismissed about four months earlier, according to a filing she made with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She charged that the sheriff’s office discriminated against her on the basis of race and religion as black person and as a Muslim. She also filed a complaint with the Guilford County Human Resources Department.
To make a case for employment discrimination, Netter had to prove that other similarly situated employees who were not black and not Muslim were treated differently. A panel of federal appellate judges for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recounted Netter’s effort to prove her case in a November 2018 ruling. Writing for the panel, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz noted that an investigator from the Guilford County Human Resources Department asked Netter if she had evidence to support her discrimination claims.
“In response, Netter reviewed, copied and supplied the investigator with the confidential personnel files (which she maintained in a file cabinet in her shared office) of two subordinate employees whom she supervised at Greensboro Jail Central,” Motz wrote. “Netter also provided the investigator with the personnel files of three other employees who worked at the High Point Detention Center, which she obtained through a personal request to a co-worker. Netter acknowledges that she knew the files were confidential but nonetheless did not seek permission from the five employees or her own supervisors to copy and disclose them.”
Before Netter’s claim could be heard in US district court, she was fired in September 2016 for violating the department’s directive on conformance to the law, maintaining confidentiality of records and performance.
“Sgt. Netter is a shift supervisor at Jail Central,” wrote Lt. BW Hall, who investigated the case. “This is a position with enormous responsibility and liability. The decisions she makes, and the orders she issues stand to affect a sizable quantity of our officers, and the inmates they are entrusted to protect. Trustworthiness is paramount, as command staff must be able to have trust in the decisions made by their supervisors, and even their line officers. In a high-liability field such as detention, officers and supervisors must be prepared to sufficiently and legally justify their actions. Justifications based upon personal beliefs or personal agendas unsupported by law or policy, opens the agency up to significant liability.”
As the Fourth Circuit reaffirmed, Netter committed a Class 3 misdemeanor by “knowingly and willfully examin[ing]…, remov[ing], copy[ing] and portion of a confidential personnel file.”
On Nov. 15, 2018, the Fourth Circuit would uphold a lower-court ruling finding in favor of Barnes on all claims, including discrimination and retaliation. By then, the voters of Guilford County had loudly mandated that it was time for BJ Barnes to retire, and Catherine Netter was in line for a new job as executive administrative officer for Sheriff Danny Rogers.