Report on beginnings of Gerlach investigation released; some claims not supported

Published: Nov. 8, 2019 at 10:03 PM EST
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​Public documents released Friday detail the investigation triggered by an anonymous tipster that resulted in the resignation of Dan Gerlach as East Carolina University interim chancellor and the conflict that investigation brewed within the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Gerlach resigned last month after surveillance video surfaced of him following a night of drinking with students.

An investigative report conducted by a Raleigh law firm shows the firm interviewed 35 people, including the owners of several Greenville bars, about Gerlach's actions on September 25. WITN obtained a redacted copy of the report Friday after a public records request made shortly after Gerlach resigned.

The firm reviewed surveillance footage from Sup Dogs and data from Gerlach's phone.

According to the report provided by the investigating law firm, while having lunch at a local Greenville restaurant, lawyer and adjunct professor Matt Davenport heard a restaurant employee talking about his interactions with Gerlach the night before. Davenport was joined at lunch by ECU Board of Visitors member and local Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Foster who got the pictures transferred to him.

The investigators found that many of the allegations put forth against Gerlach were not supported by witness statements. The initial anonymous tip accused Gerlach of arriving at one club with a known prostitute and engaging in "activities that a married man would only engage in with his wife."

Investigators also learned that, while Gerlach did buy drinks for students, he only did so knowing they were of legal age.

Public records obtained by WITN News show Romary invoking police organizations, Board of Governors members and legislative leaders in his petition for the recordings. It turns out Romary was working for Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer and had previous ties to former board chair Harry Smith.

Other records reveal Fetzer's push to get legislative leverage behind the video. Fetzer texted Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, to help Romary.

"Tell him the General Assembly has an oversight role and that you would like the tapes released,” Fetzer wrote in the text, adding, "...keeping this QUIET is essential."

Romary has been involved before with intrigue at the University System and Board of Governors. Last year, Fetzer said he contacted Romary to do an extra background check on a candidate for Western Carolina University's open chancellorship. That ended up derailing the search, and some members questioned Fetzer for running a check outside the system's regular protocol.

Fetzer acknowledged in an email to fellow UNC Board of Governors members his role in pushing for the Gerlach video, adding he is not ashamed because he questions whether it would have ever seen the light of day.

Fetzer told our sister station, WRAL News that he tried to keep his quest secret because he didn't trust investigators hired by the UNC system. He questioned whether they tried to cover up the existence of the video, pointing to emails that show board attorneys waited until the last minute to preserve the video before it was set to be deleted by Greenville staff.

By invoking lawmakers, Fetzer admitted he was "pulling out all the stops" to get the recording released.

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