Collegedale commissioners call for 'emergency meeting' after police department fires three officers, replaces spokeswoman

The clock tower in front of Collegedale City Hall is pictured Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Collegedale, Tennessee.
The clock tower in front of Collegedale City Hall is pictured Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Collegedale, Tennessee.

UPDATE: Following the unexpected firing of three Collegedale, Tennessee, police officers and the replacement of the police department's spokeswoman, two Collegedale city commissioners and the vice-mayor have called for an "emergency meeting" of the board of commissioners to "discuss the current and future state of the Collegedale Police Department, City Administration, and the welfare of the city" on Monday at 6:30 p.m., according to a statement released by the officials.

The elected officials, Vice-Mayor Tim Johnson, Commissioner Debbie Baker and Commissioner Ethan White, asked Mayor Katie Lamb and city recorder Kristi Wheeler to issue the "immediate notification" of all commissioners and necessary staff at least 12 hours before said meeting.

If the meeting can't be held Monday at 6:30 p.m., the officials have asked for it to be held immediately following the board of zoning appeals meeting, or on Tuesday at 6 p.m.


ORIGINAL STORY: Three Collegedale, Tennessee, police officers were fired, without explanation, Friday afternoon, according to sources close to the matter. The same day, the city removed its police department's spokeswoman after having served in the position since November 2013.

New police department spokeswoman Bridgett Raper initially did not confirm whether any officers had been terminated.

"As a matter of policy, the city is an at-will employer," she repeatedly said before confirming that "there have been officers who have been terminated" but said she did not know how many and could not say why.

The three officers, including a 17-year veteran of the department, made up an entire team who worked the day shift, according to multiple sources, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation from the city.

The officers had not been put on administrative leave, were all called into a meeting toward the end of their shift at the same time and, within 10 seconds, were told they were being terminated, sources said. There were no termination papers to sign, and a human resources representative was not present.

One of the officers was in the middle of writing a report for an arrest of a person who had drugs in a school zone. That arrest may be thrown out, sources said, because the officer wasn't able to finish writing his report.

The sergeant reportedly "didn't have a clue" that the firings were coming.

Each officer had to arrange for rides home because they had to leave their department-issued vehicles behind.

Just hours before the firings took place, former police department spokeswoman Tonya Sadler released a statement saying she had been notified by assistant city manager Michelle Toro via phone call that she will no longer be the public information officer (the official title given to government spokespeople) for the Collegedale Police Department.

A reason was not given, she said.

"I have really enjoyed getting to meet and work with so many of you since I became the PIO more than five years ago," Sadler said in her notice to local media outlets.

Bridgett Raper, communications strategist for the Small Cities Coalition of Hamilton County, will now be the spokeswoman for the police department, Sadler said. Raper's background is in marketing communications and brand management, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Collegedale is part of the small cities coalition, the goal of which is to communicate with municipalities about potential legislation that could affect them, and for the cities involved to come together and respond collectively to those issues.

Other cities in the coalition include East Ridge, Lakesite, Lookout Mountain, Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy.

As for Sadler, she will remain in her position as Collegedale's court clerk.

The city or police department did not return a request for clarification as to why Sadler was removed, but Raper said the police department's duty had "simply been added" to her, since she's been communications strategist for the city for over two years.

The move comes in the midst of a lawsuit against the city and its police department by former officer Robert Bedell, who claims to have been forced to resign just days after confronting supervisors over an alleged quota system.

The lawsuit states that each officer had to complete at least 25 enforcement actions and 100 patrol activities, something that Bedell's attorney Janie Parks Varnell argues is against state law.

In its response to the lawsuit, the city has denied all allegations involving a quota system or that Bedell was forced to resign. He did so voluntarily, the city claims.

A patrol sergeant was recently demoted to an officer position, as well. That move came after he was found to have "harassed and/or intimidated" an officer during a conversation on Aug. 21 in the department's squad room during which he made "disparaging comments" about a female corporal "and women in general," according to an internal affairs investigation report.

Contact Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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