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Court documents: Pender County commissioner candidate Joe Cina misled internal affairs as a NHCSO deputy

Office of Administrative Hearings; Joe Cina
Documents from the Office of Administrative Hearings that revealed former NHCSO deputy and current Pender County commissioner candidate Joe Cina mislead investigators who were looking into alleged his alleged policy violations; 2018 campaign photo of Joe Cina, pictured in his NHCSO uniform.

According to court filings from the Office of Administrative Hearings, Cina was “untruthful” when he was investigated by internal affairs while a deputy at the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. Cina resigned from law enforcement in 2016 and later ran for Pender County Sheriff in 2018; he’s currently making a second run for Pender County commissioner. He called the initial reporting on the documents a "smear campaign."

While serving as a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office deputy, Joe Cina was “untruthful” with internal affairs during an investigation into whether he had committed policy violations, according to court documents acquired by WHQR. As a result, a confidential Giglio letter on Cina was issued by District Attorney Ben David — which later essentially became part of the public record when Cina appealed a rejected request for a private investigator’s license.

As first reported in The Pender-Topsail Post & Voice, the existence of a 2015 internal affairs investigation and the Giglio letter — previously protected by personnel law and other confidentiality statutes — became part of the public record as the result of a 2019 decision by the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

The OAH acts as an independent appeals court for numerous state agencies. In this case, OAH heard Cina’s appeal of a decision by the North Carolina Private Protective Services (PPS) Board, which licenses security guards and private investigators. The board had denied Cina’s application to become a private investigator due to his alleged “lack of good moral character and temperate habits,” based on confidential records of his employment.

Cina won his appeal, and was a licensed private investigator with his own company, Platinum Investigations, LLC, until 2021, when his license expired and the state dissolved the company for failure to file annual reports.

In an interview with WHQR, Cina said The Pender-Topsail Post & Voice reporting had not told the full story, and pointed to his successful appeal, letters of support written by Sheriff Ed McMahon, and his employment as a probation parole officer after leaving this job as a private investigator.

“Obviously, what they're portraying is not the entire truth,” Cina said. “I never would have got hired with the state as a private investigator and served and then I also got hired by the [Division of] Criminal Justice Standard as a probation parole officer for several years. So the statements that are made are not 100% accurate.”

Cina called the reporting a "smear campaign to keep me from being elected," adding, "it does not in any way hamper or keep me from being a county commissioner with Pender County."

Cina’s ‘untruthfulness’

According to court records, Cina was investigated by internal affairs in 2015 “regarding an alleged affair with another officer.” Cina admitted during an OAH hearing that “he had misled the Internal Affairs investigation, and did so to ‘save his marriage’ and ‘save his wife and children.’”

Cina called this a "workplace incident from over a decade ago."

"I had an employee-employer situation — where, with most employment, you know, it's never even an issue. It's just law enforcement. That's how it happens with law enforcement," Cina said, referring to law enforcement policies against workplace relationships.

In reviewing Cina’s application, the PPS screening committee requested a letter from David’s office, clarifying whether Cina would be able to testify in court.

In a confidential letter, David wrote this his office had “information about the untruthfulness on the part of Joe Cina” that would have to be disclosed to any criminal defendant as part of their Giglio rights — a reference to the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case, often paired with Brady, that defined what potentially exculpatory information had to be released by law enforcement and the prosecution to defendants.

David’s office maintains a Giglio review committee formed in 2013. That committee reviewed the NHCSO internal affairs investigation and found that Cina made “multiple untruthful statements.” According to court records, this placed Cina on the District Attorney’s Brady-Giglio list, which David has said elsewhere is permanent. The list is also confidential; the District Attorney's office and many other agencies have denied public records requests for the list of officers.

It’s worth noting that based on David’s letter to PPS, Cina was issued an ‘impairment’ letter — which does not foreclose him from testifying in the future — and not a so-called ‘death letter,’ issued in more extreme circumstances that permanently bar a law enforcement officer from ever testifying again (and generally considered to be an effective end to their law enforcement career). David issued ‘death letters’ to thethree Wilmington Police Department fired for violent and racist comments in 2020; at the time, David said that due to the disturbing nature of the officers' misconduct, he was making the otherwise confidential existence of the letter public.

By contrast, David’s description of Cina’s impairment is more nuanced than that type of death letter.

“We may or may not be willing to call Mr. Cina as a witness,” David wrote, adding that while his office wasn’t excluding any possibility of his ability to testimony, “we are acknowledging that the potential use of Mr. Cina’s testimony now has more drawbacks than it would have if he had been truthful with the internal affairs investigations.”

Cina confirmed that, initially, David's office had pursued a more severe Giglio finding — a death letter — but after a follow-up meeting the less severe finding was issued. Cina said he had since testified in court.

Cina’s appeal

Administrative Law Judge Stacey Bice Bawtinhimer recommended to PPS that Cina be issued a private investigator license.

In a court order, the grounds for his Giglio letter were referred to as an “isolated event.” It was also noted that Sheriff Ed McMahon had written a letter to PPS saying that during his 12 years with NHCSO, he had a “pleasant demeanor and work ethic” and was “compassionate.”

Cina said this was one of several letters of recommendation McMahon had written him.

“Petitioner presented sufficient evidence to explain the factual basis for the events giving rise to the act of dishonesty and the functional equivalent of a ‘Giglio letter’ from the District Attorney. While a serious allegation, [Cina’s] conduct is an isolated event for which he resigned his employment. He has no other deniable issues in his background and received a complimentary letter from the Sheriff. Thereby, he has rebutted the resumption,” according to the court order.

The Pender-Topsail Post & Voice reporting

Editor Andy Pettigrew published a report showing that Cina had “lied to New Hanover Sheriff’s Office investigators” on January 25. Pettigrew said he had for years heard rumors about Cina’s issues at NHCSO, but only got concrete evidence about a year ago.

“The rumors were floating around about his difficulties in the Sheriff's Department. He had said nothing about it at all, and advertised very profusely that he was a former deputy and had left to spend time with his family. But the rumors about difficulties had persisted. But, you know, we don't print rumors, and neither do you. So, without any solid information, that's just all it is,” Pettigrew said in an interview with WHQR.

Cina leaned heavily on his service at NHCSO, where he had risen to the rank of lieutenant, in his 2018 race for Pender County Sheriff, using a photo of himself in his NHCSO uniform as a campaign photo.

Pettigrew said he got a tip about a year ago that led to the OAH court filings. When Cina filed to run again, Pettigrew said he felt it was important to publish the story.

“I think someone with a history of not telling the truth and losing his career over it is important to the voters of Pender County. When you become a politician, nothing is off limits. And this certainly isn't — especially when he was never forthcoming about what happened,” Pettigrew said.

Below: OAH 'Proposal of Decision' order and 2018 letter from District Attorney Ben David.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.