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Summers stung by other-side experience


Cornelius interim police chief pleads ignorance in trailer sale case

      If only he’d been investigated and convicted early in his police officer career, Interim Cornelius Police Chief Ken Summers said Monday, “it would have totally changed how I did my job all these years.”

Summers pled guilty last August to “acting as a vehicle dealer without a certificate,” a Class A misdemeanor. Thursday, the Police Policy Committee of the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training recommended against revoking his state certification.

“It hurts so bad going through this,” said Summers, who has a new view on what it’s like to be accused of a crime committed unintentionally.

As a police officer, Summers said he often moved quickly “from an interview into an interrogation ... because the facts seemed to show that person was guilty.”

Officers are skeptical of people who profess innocence when the evidence seems to say otherwise, he said. But after his recent experience, Summers said he realizes that “even though everything looks one way, if you really dig in and really listen to people, sometimes there is another side.”

Summers’ problems began in the spring of 2010, when he tried to help his unemployed older brother make some money. Summers planned to buy an old travel trailer, restore it with help from his brother and then sell it.

Summers had already developed a reputation for restoring old trailers, particularly after he posted a photo on the Internet of an antique trailer he restored. “It got so much attention people started asking me to do theirs for them,” he said.

Summers’ brother kept the money from the trailer’s sale, as planned, but a mixup with a lien that was mistakenly sent to the new owners brought the state police to Summers’ door in October 2010.

As they questioned Summers about the lien — which he says his brother mistakenly delivered to the trailer's buyers — the troopers also learned he’d sold the trailer without a dealer's license.

“I’d always heard people can buy and sell five (vehicles) a year without a license,” said Summers, who had watched friends do that with cars — none of them apparently realizing it was illegal. “There is a real misconception about it,” he said.

Cornelius Mayor Rob Drake weighed in on the issue Monday.

“It’s important to note that this had nothing to do with integrity and dishonesty,” said Drake, who helped snag Summers for the interim chief position. “He was very up front with me when I called him. He was an outstanding catch for us on an interim basis.”

Eric Gablicks, director of the Public Safety Standards department, said the Police Policy Committee voted unanimously that misconduct was involved in Summers’ case, but 5 to 4 on the dishonesty charge.

The four who felt Summers was dishonest, Gablicks said, apparently believed that as an officer of the law, Summers would or should have known that he was incorrectly completing paperwork for the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

But committee members also listened to Summers’ explanation and considered letters submitted on his behalf, as well as his long law enforcement career, ultimately voting unanimously against decertifying him.

Summers is grateful for the committee's decision, but realizes a scruffier, less-esteemed citizen without letters of commendation might not get the same break. “I can teach this to the people that work for me and share my experience,” he said.

Judges and juries pronounce final verdicts, but police officers can influence whether a case ever makes it to a courtroom in the first place, Summers said. After his own experience, he feels strongly that “when we’re investigating the case, we’ve got to put more humanity into it.”

Tragically, Summers’ brother, 57-year-old John Michael Summers, was killed a year ago in an accident on Swan Island. He had found a job working on a barge that carried a toxic chemical and apparently fell into a holding tank full of the substance.