Spate of problems leaves town without police force

Spate of problems leaves town without police force

August 20th, 2012 by The Tennessean in News

Police Chief Paul West - the last officer working in the Coopertown Police Department - quit Thursday.

He blamed his sudden resignation on the recent media scrutiny of the department, which has seen one officer fired after a road rage incident and the city's reserve officer program terminated after an officer was caught on video using racial slurs.

"West resigned due to predatory reporting and the consequences of the predatory reporting on his family," Coopertown Mayor Sam Childs said in an email.

Childs said he officially accepted West's resignation after an hourlong meeting on Friday.

The city's next steps will be to accept applications for two full-time police officers, but any hiring done by the city will likely be months away, Childs said.

In the interim, the city of just over 4,000 people about 30 miles northwest of Nashville will be patrolled by the Robertson County Sheriff's Office until the town can staff the police department.

The department's woes go back more than a decade with allegations of mismanagement, racism and poor decision-making. It has had at least 10 police chiefs in 11 years. At one point, it ballooned to nearly 20 officers.

Over the past several years, the city has been sued at least five times for unlawful termination of city employees. Three settled for an undisclosed amount of money and a fourth cost taxpayers $90,000 after a jury verdict.

"I know that they've had some serious problems at that police department there," said Phillip L. Davidson, the Nashville attorney who has sued on behalf of fired officers in the past. "What you've got to do is have some stability in terms of your leadership in the department. That's the problem they've had -- they've not been able to keep a chief there long enough to enforce these things."

Childs and West could not be reached by phone, but the mayor responded by email to a list of questions.

When asked about the department's historic instability, he responded with one word: "Politics," he wrote.

Vice Mayor Peggy Ruth said the department's problems are largely in the past, a byproduct of Former Mayor Danny Crosby, who was the target of an ouster lawsuit brought by the district attorney.

In 2006, District Attorney John Carney filed a petition to oust Crosby, accusing him of running speed traps, targeting soldiers and Hispanics for traffic tickets, violating child labor laws, using racial slurs and violating open meeting laws.

Crosby was suspended temporarily but prevailed in court to keep his position. He was voted out in 2008 when Childs was elected mayor.

"We worked very hard after the Crosby drama to stay out of the news," the vice mayor said. "Sam is a very kind and generous person, and I think he probably has kept on some employees who maybe should have been let go just because he tries to give people second chances."

Crosby, who is running against Childs for mayor this year, admitted that he made mistakes on his watch, namely trusting the wrong people.

"My failures at the police department started at the same place that Sam's failures do," Crosby said.

The city's police department made headlines about three weeks ago, when reserve police officer Robert McCormick was caught on a police dash camera using racial slurs in describing a black motorist he had pulled over. Childs has likened McCormick's language to chest-thumping and venting -- not racism -- and was content with letting McCormick stay on the force until the video went public.

His reaction drew criticism even from supporters, like Ruth, who said that McCormick should have been fired immediately.

The city terminated its reserve officer program shortly after the video went public. It also terminated the officer who uncovered it.

West's only other full-time officer, David Deckerd, was accused of pulling a gun during a road rage incident on July 21 in Goodlettsville, according to a police report of the incident.

Deckerd was off duty at the time and no charges have been filed, but the city fired him on July 31. His attorney, Fletcher Long, said that Deckerd was fired only because he uncovered the video with the racial slurs. After the firing, Long released the video to the media.