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Concord Police officer suspended for passing stopped school bus as child tried to exit

Chief Gary Gacek said the 15-year veteran will be suspended without pay for five days.

CONCORD, N.C. — Less than a week after a home surveillance camera captured a Concord Police Department vehicle driving past a stopped school bus, the police chief has announced the officer in that car will face discipline.

Chief Gary Gacek confirmed Thursday that after an internal investigation, Sgt. Matthew Willet will be suspended without pay for five days. Gacek said Willet, who has served with the department for 15 years, will also have to appear in court for passing the stopped bus, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina. Gacek noted Willet will appear in court just like any other citizen ticketed for the same violation.

The department began investigating, along with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, after the footage was shared on social media on May 11. The video showed Willet's police car passing the stopped bus as a student prepared to step out. Willet was cited by state troopers days later and was placed on administrative leave by his department.

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Additionally, Gacek noted Concord Police immediately handed over all requested information to NCSHP. He also said Willet took full responsibility and was regretful for what happened. 

According to Gacek,  the department's investigation found Willet was behind another car in traffic before pulling into a turn lane to turn right into a neighborhood. Willet failed to see the flashing lights on the bus and was unaware the child was about to be let off. Still, Gacek said police officers carry a responsibility to avoid mistakes like this one.

The chief also said while some community members have said Willet should be fired, Gacek said what happened didn't rise to that level. He also said Willet hasn't had a citizen complaint during his career and has been actively engaged with the Concord community, including participation in civic education and youth outreach initiatives.

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Gacek's full statement follows:

This week, a concerned parent posted to social media a video of a Concord Police cruiser illegally passing a stopped school bus. Parents of the child on that bus -- as well as many in our community -- were angry about what they saw. As a parent whose children rode the school bus for many years, I completely understand that anger. This officer, Matthew Willet, did the wrong thing.

The State Highway Patrol is the agency with jurisdiction where this occurred. We immediately gave them all the information they requested so they could investigate the officer’s actions. They ticketed and charged Matt for passing a stopped school bus, a class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina. He’ll have to appear in court, just like anyone else who’s cited for the same violation.

But Concord police officers are held to higher standards. After completing an internal personnel investigation, I’ve decided to suspend Matt without pay for five days.

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Matt accepted full responsibility for his mistake and deeply regrets what happened. The investigation showed that he was behind another car in traffic when he pulled into a turn lane to turn right into a neighborhood. He failed to see the flashing lights and was unaware the bus was stopped to let a child off. While we all make mistakes, police officers carry an extra responsibility to do everything they can to avoid them.

Some on social media have called for me to fire Matt over his mistake. This was a serious error and he is being held accountable for it, but I want to be clear: this simply doesn’t rise to the level of firing him.

Matt is a 15-year veteran who’s dedicated his life to keeping our community safe. He’s been an engaged officer in our community, participating in countless youth and civic education programs, and spent much of his career as a K9 officer. He has never had a citizen complaint during his entire career and has been commended multiple times for his performance.

Our job as police officers is to keep our community and especially our kids, safe. Matt made a mistake, and in doing so, fell short of our duty in that regard.

I’m sorry we’ve let you down. I want to reassure you that our priority is keeping our residents and visitors safe while earning the trust of those we serve.

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