The City of Fort Pierce has closed its investigation into Police Chief Diane Hobley-Burney, recommending that Hobley-Burney be suspended or terminated.
Transcripts of interviews during the investigation revealed most of the questioning surrounded Hobley-Burney’s interactions with city critic Rick Reed in light of him possibly speaking poorly about her son’s criminal record.
Kevin Browning, HR Manager for the City of Fort Pierce, interviewed several people in the course of the investigation, including Rick Reed, Chief Diane Hobley-Burney, Reverend John Lee, Reverend Robert Lee Cash, Mrs. Caroline Sessions, Special Investigator Borthland Murray, Deputy Chief Kenny Nonis and Deputy Chief Frank Amandro.
On April 26, Rick Reed emailed its manager Nick Mimms, alleging that Hobley-Burney walked up to him saying “my son's gonna get you,” following a heated city commission meeting. Reed also said two weeks earlier, Hobley-Burney and two of her command staff came to the Golden Bear Restaurant, where he is employed, asking to see him.
He alleged that "her actions are intended and are received clearly to intimidate and coerce me.”
Hobley-Burney said she had been given information that Reed was sharing her son’s picture and speaking about his criminal record to people. She said in a transcript that she visited the restaurant to talk directly with Reed about his conversations with the public about her son. “Once I found out that he was showing my son's picture, I was trying to correct it immediately and doing my best to correct it,” Hobley-Burney said.
The city viewed that action as handling a personal matter on company time. “It wasn’t about any other business of Fort Pierce. It was the business of Diane Hobley-Burney and Rick Reed. That was personal, just leave my family out of it. It was personal,” Hobley-Burney said.
Hobley-Burney stated she is protective of her family and didn’t want her family to be brought into any city issues, “hoping a conversation would eliminate any further displays of my son or bring my family into anything. I was hoping that I could reason with him to do that and my deputy chiefs that were there had no idea,” Hobley-Burney said.
Rick Reed was not at the restaurant and Hobley-Burney said she left her card with staff, asking them to have Reed call her.
Two weeks later at an April 18th City Commission meeting, Rick Reed claimed Hobley-Burney threatened him in regards to comments about her son.
An item being discussed was the possible termination of an officer because of their relationship with known felons. During a comment period, Rick Reed made a statement that Hobley-Burney said was targeting her and her son.
“He spoke about people have convicted felons that are in their families… he turned around and looked at me and said including someone’s son,” Hobley-Burney said.
When leaving the meeting, Rick Reed accused Hobley-Burney of threatening him, saying “My son’s got’ get you.” Reed said inches transcript that he did not directly hear the alleged threat, and his full focus was on his cellphone. Reverend Lee and Mrs. Sessions told Rick Reed that they heard her say that, according to their testimony.
Hobley-Burney said she told Reed, “My son would like to meet you.” Deputy Chief Frank Amandro and Deputy Chief Kenny Norris supported Hobley-Burney’s recollection saying “My son would like to meet you.” “I didn’t say it in malice. I didn’t say it in anger,” Hobley-Burney said.
In concluding the investigation, Browning came to the following conclusion:
Hobley-Burney displayed a serious lack of judgement, took two uniformed high ranking officer subordinates with her to the individual's place of business, during work hours to see him, and asked staff to call him, to (in her words) "send him a message". She said it was a "personal" issue.
The statement made on April 18th, 2016 was perceived by some of the witnesses to be a threat by the Chief of Police, when Professionalism and good judgement dictated that should have been no statement at all.
This office finds that the conduct displayed by Fort Pierce Police Chief Hobley-Burney was improper and a violation of the City of Fort Pierce Rules and Regulations, as well as the City of Fort Pierce Police Department's Policy and Procedure.
City Commissioners could decide whether to suspend or terminate Hobley-Burney at a commission meeting next week.