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UNC System releases documents detailing Gerlach investigation

The UNC System has released hundreds of pages of documents related to the investigation of  ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach. Gerlach’s resignation last month has led to controversy over what appears to be another power struggle between members of the UNC Board of Governors, state lawmakers and leaders of the system itself.

Last week it was revealed that UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer and attorney Peter Romary ran their own investigation into a night of drinking with ECU students that led to Gerlach’s suspension and eventual resignation. According to e-mails and text messages obtained by NC Policy Watch, Fetzer and Romary actively tried to hide their investigation from the UNC system and the law firm hired to do the official investigation. The video and information they secured were leaked to the media, along with allegations against Gerlach for which there appears to be no evidence.

During their independent investigation Fetzer and Romary suggested they were working with or on behalf of members of the UNC Board of Governors, ECU Board of Trustees and state lawmakers, dropping the names or titles of Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), House Speaker Tim Moore (R- Cleveland) and House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne).

Among the hundreds of pages — some redacted — released by the UNC system:

* A memo from international law firm Womble Bond Dickinson on their communications with Fetzer and attempts to secure City of Greenville video footage that appears to show Gerlach weaving and stumbling on foot after a night of drinking before getting into his car and driving away.

* A 23-page report from Womble Bond Dickinson on their findings in the Gerlach investigation.

* A five-page timeline of communications between Peter Romary and the City of Greenville as he attempted to obtain the video footage of Gerlach

* Nearly 300 pages of e-mails and communications related to the Romary timeline.

In its findings, Womble Bond Dickinson reported:

* Gerlach claimed not to be intoxicated when he drove home but also could not correctly remember the evening’s sequence of events and some important details. Some witnesses claimed that he had slurred speech and trouble walking straight.

* Gerlach did buy alcoholic drinks for students and says he has done so before, but only when it was confirmed that they were of legal drinking age.

* Despite claims in anonymously-sent e-mails, Gerlach does not appear to have engaged in any public sexual activity and does not appear to have been with a prostitute, as was anonymously alleged.

* The woman alleged to be a prostitute with whom Gerlach was rumored to have had a sexual liaison was, according to witnesses, a drunk and belligerent person unfamiliar to Gerlach who acted in an aggressive way toward him and from whom he tried to extricate himself. She was eventually ejected from the bar.

* Written and verbal statements by Romary appear very similar to those in the anonymous e-mails and were similarly expressed. During his interview with investigators, Romary is said to have tried to make the case that Gerlach did have a public sexual liaison on the night in question.

* Fetzer, Romary and ECU Board of Trustees members Phil Lewis and Robert Moore acted independent of the official investigation. They did not allow their phones to be examined as part of the investigation. At several points they, along with former UNC Board of Governors member Harry Smith, called into question the methods and legitimacy of the investigation. While arguing with investigators Romary suggested he would contact U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose family he also referenced while trying to secure materials during his independent investigation.

* While Womble Bond Dickinson could not conclude that Gerlach was “set-up” by those wishing to tape him being publicly intoxicated and having interactions with a woman later alleged to be a prostitute. They could not “entirely rule out” that possibility, but neither could they confirm it.

Policy Watch will report more on this story as it develops.

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