Meridian Star

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February 24, 2013

Questions still linger about Reed’s departure

MERIDIAN —     Three weeks after the unexpected resignation of Meridian Police Chief James Reed, questions still linger in the community as to why Reed left after about six months on the job.

    At the recommendation of Mayor Cheri Barry and a unanimous vote from the City Council, Reed was sworn in as chief on Aug. 8.

    Citing personal reasons for his departure, Reed announced his resignation on Feb. 4. He offered no other explanation, nor did Barry. At the request of Ward Four Councilman Jesse Palmer, the next day Council President George Thomas appointed Palmer, along with Ward Three Councilwoman Mary Perry and Ward Five Councilman Bobby Smith to a committee to investigate the chief's leaving, but reminded those with questions about Reed's departure that the City Council does not have authority over city employees. He said city employees report to the mayor.

    Since it is a personnel issue, city officials are limited in what they can say about it without Reed's permission.

    Reed's qualifications as police chief were unquestioned when he was hired, but his certification status was questioned later when it came to light that he was not yet a certified Mississippi law enforcement officer. A statement from the Department of Public Safety Planning, Office of Standards and Training clarified the requirements. It said that a person, either appointed or employed in a law enforcement capacity, has two years from the date of hire to meet the requirements.

    Opinions vary as to the concerns over Reed's certification. Supporters of Reed say it's something that should not have affected his job as chief and that he would have taken steps to get certified. Others say if he wasn't certified he never should have been hired in the first place.

    Supporters of Reed, particularly those in Meridian's African-American community, want answers. One of the answers some are hearing is that insubordination within the police department and a lack of support from high-ranking officers led to Reed's resignation.

    At a meeting Monday night at First Union Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian, concerned citizens gathered to ask questions and get answers.

At the outset of the meeting, the Rev. W.C. Brown, representing Coalition of Community Leaders, laid the ground rules for those attending. They were to write their questions down and when addressing the crowd, were to limit their remarks to two minutes.

    "This is not a white and black racial conference," Brown said. "James Reed was reared by both black and white. Both races have an investment in that young man and so racism is not our issue tonight."

    Brown said the community does need to have a conversation about racism, but the meeting about Reed was not the occasion.

    "The right person is more important than the color of that person," Brown said.

    Questions about the former chief's resignation ran the gamut from whether there was insubordination from officers to whether he had had sufficient support from the mayor.

    Brown said he had heard that police officers were disrespectful to Reed and would not follow his orders.

    "That's  insubordination, to me, Brown said. "That's what's coming out of the police department. All of them are not lying."

    John Nelson, retired police lieutenant, said Reed was affected by a lack of cooperation and support.

    "I think that James was very frustrated with the department as a whole and he felt like he was being undermined by numerous officers within the department," Nelson said.

    Nelson said Reed told him that the N-word was written in the department's briefing room one day.

    John Harris, chairman of the Lauderdale County NAACP, and a candidate for City Council, said Reed was trying to make changes in the department.

    "I personally believe that Chief Reed was forced out and I've heard people in the department say that he didn't get any help from white and black officers," Harris said. "I believe that those issues were at the forefront. He did some rearrangements in the police department."

    Harris said he believes that resistance to those changes led to Reed's resignation.

    "We think Chief Reed was the victim of a whole lot of these things because he was trying to get this city straight. We have a lot of things under investigation regarding the city and what's going on at the Police Department," Harris said. "The Police Department has some corruption in it. The corruption is coming from white and black."

    Councilman Jesse Palmer attended the meeting and said he was limited in what he could say because it is a personnel issue.

    "I have been very, very honest in everything that I've ever done," Palmer said. "I talked with Chief Reed and he told me he was leaving because of health problems. That's all he told me, that he had health problems."

    The Meridian Star has been unable to reach Reed, who has made no public statement about his resignation, other than it was for personal reasons.

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