GREENSBORO — An employee of a group home for troubled youth — co-owned by Deputy Police Chief James Hinson — has been charged with the sexual assault of a minor.
On Monday, the Guilford County Sheriff's Office charged Richard Vernell Heath with one count of statutory sex offense and two counts of indecent liberties with a child, according to court records. He was arrested Tuesday.
The 15-year-old, whose name is being withheld, reported to a state investigator on May 17 — a Friday — that Heath inappropriately touched him in a car. Two days later, the teen claimed that Heath forced him to perform oral sex at the group home while other employees were away.
“He started forcing my head down,” the teen said. “I pulled my head back and I have my lips balled up. I said, ‘Bro, what are you doing?’"
The Division of Health Service Regulation, a state agency, released a 53-page report on July 31 detailing the encounter, a failure by group home staff to report the assault to authorities — and that Hinson tried to pressure the teen to "drop the charges."
The incident occurred at Center of Progressive Strides, a home for troubled youth in northeast Greensboro. Founded in 2006 by Hinson and Kevin Chandler, a former Greensboro police sergeant, both said last week the group home is now closed — but not because of the allegations.
Hinson and Chandler said the report was biased and didn't give them a chance to respond to allegations.
“There are many lies, many untruths in that report,” Hinson said.
In the report, Hinson and Chandler are skeptical of the 15-year-old's account, largely based on what a housemate admitted to them.
"I will be honest: We talked about setting up (Heath) and getting him in trouble so (the 15-year-old) can go home and get out of the group home," Chandler said the housemate told him.
When Hinson talked to the housemate, he was told something similar. That left him to conclude: "I don't think this incident happened at all and nothing criminally occurred."
The Greensboro Police Officers Association had called for Hinson to be placed on administrative duty while the Guilford County Sheriff's Office investigated the matter. But that didn't happen.
It’s not the first time Hinson — who some see as a candidate to replace outgoing Chief Wayne Scott — has been at the center of controversy. Over a decade ago, he was at the heart of an alleged racial discrimination scandal that helped lead to the resignation of former Chief David Wray.
On the heels of that came the revelation in 2007 that Hinson, a lieutenant at the time, and Chandler were opening the group home. Both men were criticized for not sharing that with the department.
In 2012, Hinson was a captain leading the police department's eastern patrol division, where Center of Progressive Strides was located. Some City Council members expressed concern that his role as a top police official wouldn't be compatible with running a group home should trouble ever arise there.
Now, that concern has come up again.
"Read the report. It is not well written and clearly doesn't have all the facts," Hinson said.