PILOT MOUNTAIN, N.C. (WGHP) — Officials have given an update into an investigation that has led to the chief of the Pilot Mountain Police Department being suspended.
On Nov. 9, the Pilot Mountain Police Department confirmed that Police Chief Robbie Jackson was on leave with pay. Jackson resigned instead of being fired on Nov. 14, and part-time officer and former Pilot Mountain Police Chief Darryl Bottoms has also been removed. Jason Chrismon and Ryan Blizzard have been put on administrative leave with pay as the investigation continues.
Adrian Tillotson, a detective with the police department, is serving as interim chief “during this transitional period.”
‘Allegations of fraud’
The investigation began when someone sent tips to the district attorney, which kicked off the investigation. Officials said they hope to wrap up in a matter of “days or weeks,” not months. The State Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the district attorney asked them to look into “allegations of fraud” at the police department.
On Thursday, officials offered clarity on the situation, saying that investigators uncovered a “years-long” pattern of misconduct that started at the top with Police Chief Robbie Jackson and trickled down to other officers since at least 2019, per the ongoing investigation.
Officials said that members of the police department “acted in a manner that doesn’t reflect the community” by reportedly scheming to defraud nonprofit organizations who paid the police department for security at events held in Pilot Mountain.
Officials don’t know the full extent of the scheme yet, but it seems that nonprofit organizations were the primary victims.
At this time, it’s unclear if there will be criminal charges brought against the officers, as the investigation is ongoing. The town said that as new information becomes available, they will release it to the public.
Mayor Eric Cockerham extended his thanks to Pilot Mountain’s Town Manager Michael Boaz for acting swiftly and decisively to bring this corruption to light.
Tillotson takes command
Interim Chief Tillotson said he wants to help start the process of regaining the community’s trust and that the community should not expect to notice any changes.
He also said that Surry County Sheriff’s Office will be offering supplementary law enforcement and Mount Airy Police Department and King Police Department have reached out to offer support.
“Being named chief of police was a role I hoped to fill, however not under these cloudy circumstances,” Tillotson said. “I am committed to leading our police department with transparency and accountability.”
According to the Town of Pilot Mountain, their police department has 10 full-time officers, and a number of part-time officers. A budget from 2022-2023 on the town’s website shows an estimated revenue of around $3.5 million for the town, and under the section “general fund expenditures” it lists “public safety” as having a cost of $939,310, representing 42% of the general fund expenditures for that year, and 26% of the towns overall estimated revenue. This is a slight decrease from public safety spending in 2022, according to an audit released by the town.
Town says it denounces corruption
The Town of Pilot Mountain released a statement saying that it denounces corruption in the police department on Thursday afternoon.
“The Town of Pilot Mountain demands that its leaders uphold their oath to be good stewards, act ethically, and serve the community. We found substantial evidence that our now-former police chief engaged in behavior that constitutes a failure of leadership and that failed to uphold his oath to protect and serve,” said Boaz. “We have accepted his resignation effective immediately.”
Pilot Mountian said it is committed to “rebuilding trust and providing transparency and accountability.”
“Our citizens deserve transparency and accountability, especially as we work to rebuild trust between our police department and the community,” said Cockerham. “While this is an active investigation, we are committed to transparency. Wherever appropriate, we will share information with the media, our community and the public.”
Pilot Mountain says an internal investigation is ongoing and further details will be made available at its conclusion.
Town locals react to the scandal
The investigation claims that members of the police department defrauded non-profit organizations, including Pilot Mountain Unites.
The organization’s executive director told FOX8 she had no idea this was going on. She said this is in relation to the Hot Nights, Hot Cars event, which is huge in the town and takes place six times per year. She would hire officers to work the event and pay them directly.
“Sooner or later you get caught,” said John Wendel, who has lived in Pilot Mountain for more than a decade. “I don’t trust them.”
Others lamented the scandal but still tried to maintain a positive outlook.
“It’s a sad commentary of our time, but for every one bad apple there are hundreds of others very dedicated wonderful people trying to do the best they can,” said Stephen Nason, a Pilot Mountain resident.
Town leaders don’t know the full extent of this scheme yet but believe non-profit organizations, which paid off-duty officers for security at events, were the primary targets.
A town spokesperson said in some cases, officers were not showing up to events they were paid to work. In others, they were getting paid by the non-profit and police department at the same time.
“This new chief promised us there’s gonna be a big turnaround,” said Wendel.
For his part, Boaz acknowledged the work that needs to be done to repair trust within the community.
“Today also marks a new day in Pilot Mountain, a renewal of our commitment to do right by our community,” said Boaz.