Greenville, N.C. — Attorneys reviewing the night out that eventually cost East Carolina University Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach his job didn’t press for city security camera footage that shows him weaving on the sidewalk and eventually driving away until after another attorney, unrelated to the inquiry, petitioned for its release.
A judge almost immediately approved that petition Friday, releasing video footage that was leaked to WRAL News by Saturday night. Gerlach, whose attorney was notified of the release Friday, resigned Saturday morning.
The University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors meets Tuesday morning, and the agenda calls only for a closed session with a legal report and an “executive personnel matter.” The ECU Board of Trustees meets later in the day.
UNC system spokesman Josh Ellis said in his statement that “during the course of the investigation, our investigators uncovered additional facts and issues that will require additional review and consideration by University leaders.”
“Those matters will be discussed with the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees in closed session on Tuesday,” he said.
The petition timing may have proved critical. Traffic and security camera footage cycles out of Greenville’s storage system, and city spokesman Brock Letchworth said it’s generally available for only 30 days.
Friday marked the 30th day since Gerlach went out drinking in downtown Greenville and, based on the footage, drove his car after 2 a.m. on Sept. 26.
The video was the first public indication Gerlach drove that night. He was placed on administrative leave in September after photos emerged of him drinking and carousing with young people in various Greenville bars, but he said at the time that he broke no laws.
The University of North Carolina system brought in Womble Bond Dickinson, a transatlantic law firm, to review the incident while Gerlach was on leave with pay. On Oct. 14, a firm attorney reached out to the city of Greenville, inquiring about public safety/traffic camera recordings from that night.
She was told the firm would likely need to file a petition in Pitt County Superior Court and schedule a hearing to get the tapes released, a process for police video that the General Assembly laid out in 2016.
An assistant city attorney attached relevant state code and a blank petition form to an email explaining the protocol. He copied Gerlach’s attorney, who had also inquired about the video, and attached a second form that people who actually appear in police video can use to view the footage but not get copies.
Neither attorney filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on release until last Friday afternoon.
By then, Peter Romary, an attorney who told the court he represented the Police Benevolent Association of North Carolina and the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police, had gotten the video released.
Stamped court records show Romary filed his petition at 9:35 a.m. Friday. The consent order releasing the footage is stamped 10:03 a.m. Another petition from Womble Bond Dickinson, essentially a word-for-word copy of Romary’s filing, was stamped at 3:36 p.m.
Gerlach’s attorney, S. McKinley Gray III, filed to view the video at 4:40 p.m. Friday.
Why didn’t the UNC system or its outside attorneys request the video until then?
“That is a really, really good question,” Romary said Monday. “They all believed that on the 25th (of October) they were going to go away.”
Ellis said in a statement that investigators were surprised to learn Friday the court had released the footage without a hearing they’d been told was needed.
“On Friday, after that consent order had been entered with Mr. Romary, the city offered for the first time to consent to our investigators’ request for the same footage,” Ellis said.
Ellis did not explain why the university’s outside counsel didn’t simply petition the court for the footage until after Romary got it released, nor did he address a WRAL News question about the videos potentially being lost after 30 days.
Ellis said the UNC system doesn’t believe Romary’s petition met statutory requirements, and he said the judge considering the petition Womble Bond Dickinson’s attorney filed Friday has not yet granted it. The judge requested more information “consistent with the statute,” Ellis said in the statement.
Gerlach’s attorney said that, based on his conversation with the city earlier this month, he believed the petition process would be “more onerous process than what it turned out to be.”
Gerlach’s resignation Saturday was abrupt and accompanied by a short statement from UNC Interim President Dr. Bill Roper, who had hired Gerlach. By Saturday night, WRAL News had been sent a series of videos showing Gerlach going from bar to bar.
They came from an anonymous email address and someone who asked to be identified only as “close to national police organizations who were not appreciative of Gerlach implying he was set up or framed somehow with assistance from members of law enforcement.”
In radio interviews after he was placed on leave, Gerlach said he was having a beer in downtown Greenville that night when he ran into two off-duty police officers who invited him to go to another bar for a beer. Gerlach didn’t accuse them of a set up, but he said that the way pictures were later sent to the media left him thinking, “there’s something going on here rather than kind of random, some kind of random event.”
A conspiracy theory took root on the internet that police helped set Gerlach up. Romary said he filed his petition to disprove these accusations and he said that, after talking with local law enforcement, none of the people seen walking with Gerlach from one bar to another seem to be police officers.
Gerlach said in a text message Monday that, “I have not and do not blame law enforcement for any of this.”
“I understand others may have posited that theory, along with others, but I have not encouraged or agreed with it,” he said.
“I fully cooperated with University investigators and fully disclosed to the investigators my whereabouts and activities on the night of September 25,” Gerlach said in his text.
Published at Tue, 29 Oct 2019 02:58:11 +0000