SOUTHPORT, NC – All police operations in Southport have been suspended and the entire force placed on paid administrative leave after the city’s police chief and a lieutenant were arrested Thursday and charged with double-dipping at a second job while on the clock at the police department.
Chief Gary Smith, 46, and Lt. Michael Christian Simmons, 48, were both charged with conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, willful failure to discharge duties, and obstruction of justice.
According to District Attorney Jon David, the joint investigation by the SBI and the FBI into Smith and Simmons began April 4 after law enforcement officers tipped off investigators about the pair.
State investigators said Smith and Simmons were driving overnight shifts for an unnamed local trucking company during the same hours they had claimed on their daily activity reports for the Southport Police Department.
David said Smith and Simmons’ duties for the trucking company routinely required them to be out of town and even out of the county.
Smith was taken into custody Thursday morning and booked into the Brunswick County Detention Center under a $10,000 unsecured bond. He was later released after posting bail.
Simmons was taken into custody during Thursday afternoon’s news conference announcing the results of the investigation.
Multiple search warrants were executed Thursday at the police department, town hall, and the trucking company.
“It is indeed that I get before you today with a heart laden with grief for all these events that happened today,” said Mayor Jerry Dove. “It was a shock to me to hear all these, being a former chief and knowing the officers that worked in that department and hired at least half of them.”
Dove said he consulted with the city board and they requested the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office assume all law enforcement functions within the city until further notice.
“We will be relying on (the sheriff’s office) substantially on the road ahead to step into the void and provide a police presence,” David said. “The sheriff’s office already has overlapping jurisdiction with Southport. It’s not new that they would be patrolling these streets. They know the lay of the land and I’m very confident that citizens will be well protected.”
Despite the entire police force being put on administrative leave, David cautioned not to put all the officers in a negative light.
“A lot of these officers have done absolutely nothing wrong. Some of them are the ones that first came forward,” David said. “This stain should not be extended to the officers who take seriously their duty to serve and protect.”
David said the ripple effects from Thursday’s revelations also extend to any pending cases from the City of Southport. David said his office has a process in place to systematically review those cases and to ensure that they stand on firm footing.
The sheriff’s office will aid the District Attorney’s Office if any pending Southport cases need additional investigating because they weren’t properly handled, David said.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that is the case…but we are sensitive to that concern and will look into it in the future,” David said.