Chief stays mum about about officer-assault case (2024)

Martinsville Police Chief Rob Fincher has notified Star News owner and reporter Charles Roark of the results of an investigation involving a physical encounter between Roark and a city police officer.

Chief stays mum about about officer-assault case (1)

Fincher made clear that his department would conduct the investigation involving one of its own men, and then stated that the internal investigation would be classified as a personnel matter, and no information would be publicly released.

Roark admitted he doesn’t check the mail at his home in the city every day, but one day last week he received an undated letter from Fincher and made a copy of the two-page, typewritten response available to the Bulletin.

“It is my duty to inform you of the results of my formal investigation into your complaint regarding the night of May 17,” wrote Fincher. “I have been able to conclude upon your verbal confirmation to Mayor LC Jones that, you did not desire to have the incident reviewed by an outside special prosecutor.”

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In June, Fincher said his investigation was complete, “but since Mr. Roark chose not to pursue the issue through a special prosecutor but rather an internal investigation,” the results would not be released publicly.

Chief stays mum about about officer-assault case (2)

Roark said no one gave him the option of choosing between a special prosecutor or an internal investigation.

“I told LC that I was in favor of a peaceful resolution to all this,” said Roark. “That’s all I told him.”

Fincher wrote that he had reviewed the videos and interviews from the incident at Tequila’s Sports Bar and Grill on Spruce Street. The incident, recorded live on Facebook by Roark, shows Martinsville Police Officer Kevin Harmon appearing to cause Roark to lose control of his camera by either slapping Roark’s hand, the camera, or both; causing the camera to fall to the paved parking lot.

“The videos I reviewed include Mr. Roark’s video, as well as the body camera videos and surveillance videos of everyone who was at that location. I also have reviewed Officer Harmon’s interview and Mr. Roark’s interview and statement,” Fincher wrote.

Chief stays mum about about officer-assault case (3)

Fincher described the scene that night, where a shooting had taken place, as a crowded area where emotions were running high, the weather conditions caused by a falling rain may have played a factor, and the lighting in the parking lot was poor.

Fincher wrote that he looked for answers to three questions:

  • Did an assault take place?
  • Was there an intent to do harm?
  • Did an obstruction of justice occur?

Fincher wrote that it was obvious Harmon “hit the cell phone from the hand of Mr. Roark,” but is was unclear “whether or not there was an intention to do harm or if it was a reaction to a perceived threat by the officer.”

Chief stays mum about about officer-assault case (4)

Fincher wrote that, after reviewing Harmon’s statements during the investigation, he did not believe Harmon acted out of malice or anger, but was simply startled and he reacted.

“I do not believe that Officer Harmon exhibited any intent to commit harm or even to have committed an assault and battery,” wrote Fincher. “Furthermore, I believe his reaction was a direct result of Mr. Roark’s obstruction of justice.”

Despite Fincher’s belief that Roark was the cause of the incident, he has still recommended remedial training in media relations for Harmon “which could have resolved the entire issue immediately after it occurred with proper dialogue,” Fincher wrote.

Although Fincher wrote that he believed Roark obstructed Harmon from performing his duties, it must be determined whether Roark did so knowingly.

Fincher wrote that it was possible that Roark may have recognized Harmon as the officer who cited him for operating a motor vehicle while holding a cellphone on April 5.

Fincher suggested that Roark could have “purposely targeted Officer Harmon to bait him into an improper action,” Fincher wrote.

Roark appeared May 20 in Martinsville General District Court for the ticket and the prosecution asked the judge for a continuance until after the incident at Tequila’s between Harmon and Roark was resolved. Roark asked the judge for the case to be tried as scheduled, but the prosecution was granted the continuance and a new court date of Aug. 15 was set.

A second possibility, which Fincher wrote was the more likely scenario, is that “Roark was caught up in the action, and with the intent of getting a story first, he was overzealous and acted beyond the scope of his normal actions, accidentally interfering with Officer Harmon.”

“Although Mr. Roark has an aggressive and often confrontational reporting style, I have never known him to intentionally or knowingly interfere or put someone else in harm’s way, especially an officer,” Fincher wrote.

Fincher wrote that his findings exonerate both Harmon and Roark, meaning that although the incident did occur, “it was not the result of an intentional breach of protocols or procedures, or there was the absence of malice or intent to do harm.”

Fincher pointed out that although Harmon will be assigned remedial training on media relations, it was not being done as a form of punishment.

Wrote Fincher: “I believe this incident, although unfortunate to have occurred, as it distracted from what should have been the focus of the shooting investigation, can be a valuable teaching opportunity in proper communication by our officers and boundaries by everyone involved.”

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Chief stays mum about about officer-assault case (2024)

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