Former Rocky Mount chief rebuilding image of ECSU campus police

Posted May 29, 2013 10:00 a.m. EDT
Updated May 29, 2013 6:42 p.m. EDT

— A former Rocky Mount police chief is leading the effort to restore credibility to security at Elizabeth City State University, where police routinely ignored campus crimes in recent years.

The Elizabeth City State campus police didn't investigate about 125 criminal complaints dating to 2005, including 18 sexual assaults, officials have said. The university also didn't publicly report all campus crimes to the federal government as federal law requires, which could result in fines or lost financial aid funding.

The revelations have led to the resignations of University Police Chief Sam Beamon and Chancellor Willie Gilchrist in recent weeks. The State Bureau of Investigation is also looking into allegations of obstruction of justice and witness intimidation on campus.

"We want to get it right, first of all, and we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to put it in everyone's mind that this campus is safe," Vice Chancellor William Smith said.

The lax enforcement came to light after a female student went to Elizabeth City police to report that a residence hall security officer tried to assault her. She had reported the incident three times to campus police, but no action was ever taken.

John Manley, who retired two years ago as chief of the Rocky Mount Police Department, has been named interim chief at Elizabeth City State. He has called in local police and law enforcement from North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University to revisit the cases that went ignored.

So far, they've resolved about 60 of the dormant crime reports, making eight arrests. Dozens of other cases were closed because victims refused to cooperate or because police could no longer solve them.

"People just need to know we will work through it. We will work through it methodically, and by the end of the day, the right thing will be done by each and every case," Manley said.

Elizabeth City State has hired an outside consultant to figure out how and why the criminal complaints weren't properly investigated.

University of North Carolina officials have named former state Court of Appeals Judge Charles Becton as interim chancellor. He also served as interim chancellor at N.C. Central last year.

"We're working to do everything we can to make it a safe school for our students," said Norma James, a member of the Elizabeth City State Board of Trustees. "I think everybody was kind of shocked about what had happened."

On a recent day, university and city officers were patrolling the campus.

Still, freshman Zhana Winters said she is concerned by the allegations that campus crime has been ignored in recent years.

"My first reaction is, wow, you know, you would think they would be taken care of," Winters said.

"Some of the cases may not have been appropriately handled by university police, but the campus is safe," Manley said.