Local News

Fired Officer Sues UNC, Administrators

Posted December 2, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— A UNC-CH police officer, fired from his job last month for time-card irregularities, fired back Tuesday against the university with a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages and his job back.

Ed Swain, a former lieutenant and 10-year university police veteran, claims that he was fired in retaliation for speaking out when he thought his supervisors were trying to fix an underage-drinking ticket he had given to the daughter of a UNC-CH trustee.

University officials have been mum about the firing, but they have maintained that Swain was fired for not noting on his time card that he visitedThe Chapel Hill Newspaperoffice while on duty.

Swain filed his lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court in Chapel Hill. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages in excess of $10,000.

Swain told WRAL-TV5'sMark Robertsthat, while he'd like to have his job back, the suit is more about freedom of speech.

Swain has been at the center of the controversy since Sept. 27, when he wrote an underage drinking citation to Caroline Hancock, 18, the daughter of trustee Billy Armfield.

Michael Hooker, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has chosen to remain silent on the issue.

"Due process requires that I remain unprejudiced," Hooker said in an interview with WRAL, noting that he consistently has declined to comment on personnel issues. Hooker said he would like to comment on the case and hopes to be able to speak about it later when legal issues have been resolved.

But some students say Hooker's silence seems inconsistent with his campaign against underage drinking.

Last week, the school's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, and the Black Student Movement called for a public response by Hooker.

``It just seems like it's so blatant what's going on,'' said Jason Ofsanko, a senior from Salisbury. ``You could see it coming that they were going to try to find something to get this guy on.

``The `Don't Get Wasted' campaign has come out and millions of dollars are being spent to reduce alcohol consumption at football games. Lt. Swain was just doing his job, and he got fired for it.''

Swain also has filed an administrative complaint with the University, challenging his dismissal.

Asked whether he now regrets issuing the ticket, Swain said, "Even if I came back, I still would write a citation."

The chief of police, Don Gold, cleared out his desk a month after the citation was issued and took an indefinite leave of absence. Associate Vice Chancellor for Auxiliary Services Carolyn Elfland was asked to explain the abrupt departure. Her response at the time: ``I'm not going to share that with you.''

UNC Executive Vice Chancellor Elson Floyd has denied that Gold's departure had anything to do with the Hancock ticket.

Still, there is little doubt that administrators were heavily involved in the citation issued to Hancock.

On the day the ticket was issued, an athletics department official contacted Maj. Jeff McCracken, the man who eventually fired Swain. That weekend, Associate Vice Chancellor Elfland, who oversees the police department, and her boss, Vice Chancellor Floyd, were also notified.

Elfland decided to have McCracken investigate. McCracken pulled copies of the ticket from media reports and computers, but later reinstated them when it became the talk of the department.

In the weeks that followed, the story hit the newspapers and television news. Throughout the ordeal, school administrators have insisted that their actions, including Swain's firing, were justified.

Danny Caldwell, a police captain who also filed a grievance over the handling of the ticket, says the episode has caused morale in the department to plummet to a new low.

``This is the worst I've seen it in 17 years,'' he said.

Elfland disagreed, saying officers remain as dedicated as ever. ``If you asked any officer if it's affected the level of service provided to the campus, I think they would say no. People are out there doing their jobs and patrolling.''

From staff and wire reports