Cleveland, Tenn., Police Chief Wes Snyder is seen in this file photo.Photo by Dick Cook
Recent court testimony indicates that Cleveland, Tenn., Police Chief Wes Snyder knew of allegations of statutory rape and drug abuse against some of his officers in 2008 but did not launch a direct investigation into the claims.
The officers later were arrested, fired and pleaded guilty to sex acts with teenage girls.
Testifying Nov. 17 in an employment lawsuit filed by former Cleveland detective Duff Brumley, Cleveland Assistant Police Chief Gary Hicks described a hostile work climate and said Snyder showed animosity toward Brumley leading up to the officer's 2010 firing.
While testifying about events in the department connected to Snyder, Hicks said that, before May 2008, the department had received complaints that some of its officers were having sex with teenage girls and providing them alcohol. The complaints also said the officers illegally were abusing prescription medications such as hydrocodone, Hicks testified.
Snyder told him to have a meeting with the accused officers and "get their attention," Hicks said.
In May 2008, Hicks said, he called the officers and their supervisors into the department training room and wrote on the board that the conduct had to stop or they would be fired. He said those in the room nodded their heads, but no one spoke of details.
No official investigation into the allegations ever was launched.
Snyder did not respond to questions related to Hick's testimony. Instead, at the request of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he produced internal affairs records from an investigation into a separate incident involving the officers.
Nearly seven months after Hicks' meeting with the officers, off-duty officer Dennis Hughes shot officer Chris Mason in the hand while Mason and Officer John Hammons were at Hughes' home on duty. An investigation into the shooting revealed that officers Nathan Thomas and Hammons were using pills without a prescription.
Thomas was suspended.
But the pill investigation revealed other issues. Police charged Hughes and Thomas with having sex with 14- and 16-year-old girls in November 2008 and again on Jan. 4, 2009.
In July 2010, Thomas pleaded guilty to drug, forgery and statutory rape charges. The 14-year police veteran was sentenced to six years in prison and is eligible for parole after two years, records show.
Hughes pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape and received probation, according to the Bradley County Court clerk's office.
City Manager Janice Casteel said she wasn't present at any of the meetings and directed questions to Snyder.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...