Cleveland, Tenn., city officials support Police Chief Wes Snyder despite controversy

Cleveland, Tenn., city officials support Police Chief Wes Snyder despite controversy

December 13th, 2011 by Randall Higgins in News

Cleveland, Tennessee, Police Chief Wes Snyder

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Some city officials expressed confidence Monday in Cleveland's police chief.

"I personally have confidence in Chief [Wes] Snyder and his professional ability," said Mayor Tom Rowland at the City Council meeting. "Not knowing how information was presented and received by various people, I have confidence that it was all handled adequately and handled as it should be."

Monday was the first time the council met since news stories broke about police misconduct and the first time Rowland and most of the council members have made any public statements about the controversy surrounding the chief.

A series of stories in the Chattanooga Times Free Press in the past three weeks has reported that Snyder failed to launch any official investigations into allegations that members of his police force were having sex with teenage girls and abusing drugs in 2008.

Snyder said the allegations didn't include enough specifics to warrant an investigation, but in May 2008, he instructed Assistant Police Chief Gary Hicks to warn certain officers against "dating minors, porn on city-owned phones, consumption of alcoholic beverages while off-duty, snorting crushed pills [and] oral sex in public."

"It is never easy when you are dealing with those types of cases," Snyder said. "But the main thing is the cases were built on proof. We will continue to handle those types of situations according to state law and the policies of the city."

City Council members David May, George Poe, Richard Banks and Avery Johnson expressed support for Snyder, too.

"I would like to go on record as saying I have confidence in Chief Snyder," May said. "I have known him all his adult life. I think Cleveland is very fortunate to have a man of his intelligence and education representing the police department."

Banks said he believes the police department is doing its job.

"Almost every morning I read something about a shooting in Chattanooga or some act of violence," Banks said. "We don't have that here. We have an effective police department that combats that element that wants to cause harm to our citizens."

After the allegations came out in early 2008, charges were filed against two Cleveland police officers in January 2009, after details of the allegations were found to be true during an investigation into a separate case involving the officers.

Officer Nathan Thomas pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape, forgery and possessing drugs with intent to sell. He is serving six years in the Southeastern Regional Correctional Institute in Pikeville, Tenn.

Officer Dennis Hughes pleaded guilty to aggravated statutory rape and aggravated assault. He served nine months in jail and was placed on probation.

"It is never easy when you are dealing with those types of cases," said Snyder, who was at the City Council meeting. "But the main thing is the cases were built on proof. We will continue to handle those types of situations according to state law and the policies of the city."

Cleveland City Council member David May

Photo by Lido Vizzutti

Rowland said the officers causing the problems eventually were charged and convicted.

"It seems like the outcome is what the public would expect -- convictions and serving time in jail," he said.

"All those people who violated the rules, made bad choices, are no longer with the police department," Johnson said.

On Sunday, the Times Free Press ran a story in which police records showed that Thomas was having a relationship with a teenage girl 10 years ago. Hughes was investigated twice in late 2007 for domestic altercations and harassing phone calls to a former girlfriend, records show.

While many Bradley County Commission districts include city residential areas, none of the county commissioners has made any public statements regarding Snyder.

During the commission meeting Monday, Commission Chairman Louie Alford and Commissioner Jeff Yarber had no comment when asked about the controversies involving the police chief.

Commissioner Bill Winters, however, said he believes Snyder is a "reputable man."

"I have faith in the City Council that they will handle the matter to the best of their ability," he said. "I wouldn't want to second guess their decisions any more than I would want them to second guess mine."

Poe said he is proud that people can stop and talk with him anytime, but "I have had zero people say anything about Chief Snyder."

Correspondent Paul Leach contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Randall Higgins at rhiggins@timesfreepress.com or 423-314-1041.