Featured photo: Michael Shane Hill after he was hired by the Salisbury Police Department in 2012. Hill is the third individual from the right. (Facebook photo)
Nine years before Davidson County Sheriff’s deputy Michael Shane Hill shot and killed Fred Cox Jr. in High Point on Nov. 8, 2020, Hill was suspended from the Kernersville Police Department. Three days later, Hill resigned from that post. That’s according to public records received by Triad City Beat,which detail Hill’s previous stints at other law enforcement agencies before his current posting at the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. According to the data collected by TCB, Hill has been suspended as a law enforcement officer twice and demoted once. His most recent suspension took place for more than a month, from Nov. 8-Dec. 15, after he shot and killed Cox.
As outlined in TCB’s previous reporting, Hill had been attending a memorial service in High Point when cars driving past the church started shooting towards the building. According to a witness, Hill, who had been on the other side of the church, began shooting at individuals who were running into the church for cover. That’s when he shot Cox Jr. in the back, killing him. According to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, Hill was not wearing a body camera during the incident as the department just started their body camera program this summer. Requests for employee timesheets from the day to see if Hill was on-duty when he shot Cox Jr. were also rejected by the sheriff’s office, who claimed they are not public record. However, email records obtained by TCB show that the High Point Police Department was aware of Hill’s attendance at the memorial service on Nov. 8. In one email dated Nov. 5, 2020, sent at 8:12 p.m. Hill updates High Point police Lt. BJ MacFarland Jr. on his plans to attend the memorial service on Nov. 8. “Lt. MacFarland, the funeral arrangements for Jonas have changed according to the family. The service has moved to the Living Water Baptist Church in High Point with the service time being at 2 p.m. Family said there should be about 75 or so to include family and those close to the family in attendance, but supposedly no gang members. Stay safe and thanks again for all your help.” The email was then forwarded by MacFarland to Police Chief Travis Stroud as well as two other HPD employees.
Another email from Nov. 5 from MacFarland to other HPD employees at 3:23 p.m. note that “Davidson County Deputy Shane Hill will be in attendance in Suit and Tie. It is supposed to be a small private family event but because of the gang ties there is potential for uninvited guests.” Lastly, an email by Police Chief Travis Stroud to his employees on Feb. 1, 2021, after the shooting, appears to warn his officers from repeating Hill’s “mistake.”
“We need to learn from this incident,” Stroud writes. “Make sure we do not replicate ‘mistakes’ from LE side. This is far, far from over and we should be in consistent discussions on ‘what if’ scenarios when word comes down on what the DA is going to do. In the meantime, we will not be allowing any of our officer to attend funerals, visitations, wakes, etc…other than in full uniform security mode, in our jurisdiction.”
Attempts to reach Hill were not successful for this story. As of earlier this month, Hill was still employed by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
Is Michael Shane Hill a “wandering officer”?
Previous employment records for Hill, whose voter registration shows that he is a 43-year-old, white male who is registered as a Republican, reveal that Hill fits into the mold of what some academics call a “wandering officer.”
According to an April 2020 study by Duke law professor Ben Grunwald and University of Chicago law professor John Rappaport, a wandering officer is a law enforcement officer who is “fired by one department, sometimes for serious misconduct, who then finds work at another agency.” According to the study, which was published in the Harvard Law Journal, wandering cops are more likely to be fired again in the future and also to have complaints lodged against them compared to other officers. For the purposes of the study, Grunwald and Rappaport looked at data for 98,000 full-time law enforcement officers employed by almost 500 different agencies in the state of Florida over a 30-year period. Their study found that on any given year during their study, an average of just under 1,100 officers who were previously fired — 3 percent of all officers in the state — worked for Florida agencies.
Michael Shane Hill began working as a police officer for the Kernersville Police Department in January 2000, according to public records. For the next 11 years, Hill worked for the department, with incremental raises every year until September 2011, when he was suspended with pay. He then resigned on Sept. 30. While the date of any suspension or demotion is public record, the reason for the disciplinary action is not. If an officer is dismissed, the reason for the dismissal is public. However, in this case, because it appears Hill resigned, the reason for his departure is not public record.
After being suspended and resigning from the Kernersville Police Department on Sept. 30, Hill was hired by the Salisbury Police Department on March 19, 2012 — less than six months later. There, Hill started as a master police officer where he received incremental raises. In February 2016, he was promoted to corporal until Jan. 4, 2019, when he left. The reason for Hill’s departure was not provided by the department. Less than a month later, he began working at the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 28, 2019. A little more than a year later, in February 2020 — less than nine months before he killed Cox Jr. — Hill was demoted. The details of his demotion are not public record. Hill remains employed by the Davidson Sheriff’s Office as of earlier this month.
According to the Harvard Law study, officers who were once fired from their jobs typically have a hard time finding work again. However, that pattern does not hold for officers who were fired earlier in their careers. Based on the timeline of Hill’s employment records, he would have been about 22 years old when he first started working at the Kernersville Police Department, meaning his suspension in 2011, when he was about 32, could be considered early on his in career. The study also notes that law enforcement agencies “do not always conduct thorough background investigations before hiring.” And even when they do, “past employers are not always forthcoming and sometimes conceal the real reasons for an officer’s separation.”
When asked if the department knew about Hill’s prior suspension at the Kernersville Police Department, a public information officer with the Davidson Sheriff’s Office noted that “pre-employment records are not public record.”
The study also noted that those who were fired once were twice as likely to be fired again as compared to those who had never been fired before. However, in the case of Hill, his termination was listed as “resigned” rather than a dismissal. The study notes that “anecdotal evidence suggests that officers who commit misconduct are often allowed to resign, with a guaranteed positive work reference, in exchange for forgoing legal action.” This, the study hypothesizes, makes it more like for the officers to secure a job in the future because “hiring agencies might view these officers as rehabilitated.”
To be employed in North Carolina, an officer must be certified by the NC Department of Justice. Occasionally, when an officer engages in misconduct, their licenses can be revoked. An employee working in the Office of Administrative Hearings with the NC DOJ told TCB that Hill was not in their records for having had a hearing in the past.
While complaints against officers are not public record in North Carolina, the Harvard Law study shows that officers who had been previously fired from a position were almost twice as likely to receive complaints against them. These include complaints about violence, sexual misconduct or integrity.
On June 1, a Grand Jury failed to indict Hill on two bills of indictment for voluntary manslaughter and felony assault with a deadly weapon. Since then, Cox Jr.’s mother, Tenicka Shannon, has begun working with the attorneys who assisted in the George Floyd case, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci. In a statement from June, Jennifer McGuffin, an employee who works with Romanucci and Crump said that “civil litigation is being carefully prepared and will be filed upon completion of a thorough review of the facts to ensure accountability for the death of Fred Cox.”
For previous reporting on the Fred Cox Jr. case go here.