Meridian Star

February 6, 2013

Citizens want answers about police chief

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     The unexpected departure of former Meridian Chief of Police James Reed has prompted questions from some city residents who took their concerns to the city council on Tuesday.

    Reed, a Meridian native who was sworn in as chief last August, resigned Monday, offering no explanation other than it was for personal reasons.

    Some have speculated that it was in light of recent reports that, despite his long history in law enforcement, he had not yet become a certified law officer.

    In a statement on Monday, Mayor Cheri Barry did not elaborate on any reason for Reed's resignation.

    A representative of the Coalition of Religious and Civic Organizations,  William C. Brown, raised questions about the issue Tuesday.

    Brown thanked Barry for what he called an "excellent choice," in hiring Reed as police chief. He also thanked the Meridian City Council for its unanimous vote in support of Reed at the time of his hiring.

    "We're mourning. We're in grief because of James Reed's departure," Brown said. "While we're in grief, we understand that we must continue with life and business in the city."

    Brown said the organization is not "appeased by color," apparently in reference to the fact that Reed is African-American.

    "The right person is more important than the color of the person. The next police chief should be a police chief in the same manner of James Reed," Brown said. "A person who speaks to everyone, a person who acknowledges everyone and respects everyone. We expect that same spirit of excellence to continue with the next chief."

    Moreover, the citizens of Meridian need clarification as to what happened, he said. He asked why Reed left and what was the culture that led to it?

    "The same culture could consume the next police chief and if the next police chief is a part of that same culture, that won't help the city of Meridian," Brown said. "We're hoping that the wisdom of this council, that you will give the community your best knowledge as to what happened so that we can identify that and rectify that and that this city can appoint a police chief that we all can respect."

    Lee Vinson also spoke out in support of the former chief.

    "I was truly grieved when the chief is no longer here. He was absolutely the perfect person for the job. The people of this town need to have some sort of an explanation. The personal reasons we were given were none," Vinson said. "I certainly respect everybody in that office, the ones that walk the street, ride in the cars or anything else that they do when they put that gun and badge on, but something has to be explained here. We deserve some kind of an answer and I know the mayor already said, 'Meridian goes on.' Of course it does but we don't want a repeat and it very well could be if this isn't analyzed to a point where something can be done. I really respected that man and I am hurt, really hurt by this."

    Ward Four Councilman Jesse Palmer asked if the council could form a committee to look into the cause of Reed's departure.

    Council President George Thomas appointed Palmer, along with Ward Three Councilwoman Mary Perry and Ward Five Councilman Bobby Smith to a committee, but reminded those with questions about Reed that the city council does not have authority over city employees. He said city employees report to the mayor.

    "One thing you do have to realize is that it is illegal to report personnel items," Perry said, adding that if Reed gives the committee permission to report details to the public, they will. If not, they cannot, she said.

    Later Thomas said he believes Reed wanted to do a good job.

    "He's a good man. I have no doubt that he's a good man," Thomas said. "The details of that certification I'm not sure of. He had an extensive law enforcement background. He liked Meridian. He said it was a personal reason. Unless he wants to express more opinions about that, that's strictly up to him."

    Thomas said he hopes the committee is able to get some answers.

    "What we would like to know and what the people in Meridian would like to know is if there was something the city of Meridian could have done, if there was something the council could have done, something that the people could have done that would make the situation better," Thomas said. "Now what would make the situation better I'm not sure what that is, but if there was something that would have helped the situation and avoided the controversial part of him leaving the city, I'd like to know that."

    After the meeting, an attempt to get a statement from Barry was unsuccessful. She sent word to a Meridian Star reporter that she could not answer any questions about Reed and if there were questions about any other issue, the reporter could submit them.