Throughout his career in public service, including 23 years as a special agent and senior manager with the FBI, Frank Perry worked hard to combat corruption in public service and champion human rights.
So it was an easy — and instant — decision to accept a recent appointment to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, he says.
The first of its kind in the nation, the commission is a state agency that investigates post-conviction claims of innocence. Its efforts have resulted in 11 exonerations to date.
Perry, an extension assistant professor in NC State’s School of Public and International Affairs, will serve a three-year term as a commissioner.
“This is quite an honor and a testament to Frank’s impeccable reputation within our criminal justice system,” says Jim Brunet, associate professor and director of NC State’s Public Safety Leadership Initiative.
Before Perry retired from the FBI as head of the Raleigh office, he developed the FBI’s first comprehensive internal affairs integrity program at the FBI Academy, which is accredited by the University of Virginia. He is a past secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and also has served as the state’s Homeland Security adviser.
At NC State, Perry teaches political science and public administration courses. He says he enjoys challenging his students to think critically about issues of ethics in public service.
Read on to learn more about Perry and his thoughts on the “high calling” of helping innocent people gain freedom.
What brought you to NC State?
I was born and raised in North Carolina, just outside Zebulon. I went to Wake Forest University and the University of Miami, then spent a number of years with the FBI in Washington, D.C. When I moved down from Washington to head the FBI’s Raleigh agency, I was so happy to be back home.
At the time, NC State’s School of Public and International Affairs had a very active law enforcement training program. I had given graduation speeches there on a couple of occasions, and I developed great relationships with some of the professors. That evolved into me teaching as a part-time adjunct with the Public Safety Leadership Initiative.
After I retired from the FBI, I was appointed by Gov. McCrory to be secretary of the Department of Public Safety. During that time I continued teaching in the evenings.
What do you enjoy most about being in the classroom?
Right now I teach three full-time undergraduate courses, and I’m also involved with the Law Enforcement Executive Program. It’s wonderful to see how informed the students are and how they have a hunger, a work ethic, I didn’t see back when I was in college. They ask a lot about my background in the FBI, especially my work in organized crime, terrorism and corruption in public service. These students are on fire to do what’s right and good for the world. They inspire me.
What was your reaction to being appointed to the Innocence Inquiry Commission?
When I was asked to do this, I said ‘absolutely.’ I am honored and humbled to answer the high calling to serve on the commission. In my experience overseeing the state’s 56 prisons with the Department of Public Safety, one of the heartbreaks was going into prisons, seeing people in prison. Of course we don’t forget the victims and their heartbreak. It’s tremendous. But in looking at people in prison who claim innocence, I think it is critical to respond to these claims. North Carolina is the only state doing this. Nobody else has anything like it.
What exactly does the commission do?
We’re looking at information that was not previously in the possession of the court and attempting not to retry, but to examine what’s new and what’s meeting three thresholds: Is it credible? Is it specific? Is it coherent? And then the staff take a very long and objective look at those claims. If the claims meet the specific thresholds, they submit them to the commissioners for review and a vote.
What do you hope to accomplish in your role with the commission?
I believe the commission has already achieved this — and it has nothing to do with me — that we’ve become a model for what other states and countries should do. Hold yourself accountable and have an independent, structured process to look at credible, specific, coherent claims of innocence, new information and new forensics. That’s the right thing to do. The goal, of course, is simply the truth.