by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has vacated a ruling earlier this year from Dare County Superior Court that would have allowed Kill Devil Hills police employees to file complaints or grievances with Dare County’s senior resident Superior Court judge.
In his opinion, appellate Judge Sanford Steelman writes:
The trial court lacked jurisdiction to usurp the personnel policies of the Town of Kill Devil Hills. The order entered by the trial court was not within the scope of its inherent authority. The entry of the order without notice or hearing was a violation of due process. The entry of the order was beyond the scope of the trial court’s mandamus authority.
Steelman’s opinion documents that the effort to steer police complaints to senior resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett started shortly after Tillett’s son had an “encounter with one or more Kill Devil Hills police officers,” though no charges were filed. After the encounter, without any other legal proceeding to prompt his action, Tillett ordered in September 2011 that certain Kill Devil Hills personnel files be delivered to him, including those of an assistant town manager and the police chief. Four months later, fellow Superior Court Judge Milton Fitch Jr. issued the ruling the appellate court has just tossed.