South Pittsburg board demotes police chief; TBI investigating police brutality allegation

South Pittsburg board demotes police chief; TBI investigating police brutality allegation

October 11th, 2017 by Ryan Lewis in Breaking News

File photo of Ryan Meeks with the South Pittsburg Police Department. (WRCB)

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — After just eight months on the job, South Pittsburg Police Chief Ryan Meeks has been demoted to sergeant and the town is again looking for a new law enforcement leader.

In January, the board voted 3-1 to fire Police Chief Robert "Bobby" Simpson, and promoted Meeks to the position a month later.

At Tuesday's meeting of the South Pittsburg City Commission, City Administrator Gene Vess said his recommendation to the board to demote Meeks was a "disappointment."

He said he had investigated the town's police department and decided Meeks should be demoted to sergeant on the night shift because of "morale and leadership" problems.

Meeks will continue his duties as the department's monitor for the Governor's Highway Safety Office grant program and other grant-writing responsibilities, training organizer and some record-keeping tasks.

Vess said Meeks has been doing a good job with those obligations.

The board unanimously voted to demote Meeks and made Lt. Brenda Roth acting chief while the city searches for someone to fill the position permanently.

Mayor Virgil Holder said Meeks had discussed with Vess the problems for which he was being demoted.

"My vote was because [Meeks] told me he agreed with it," he said.

Meeks did not comment on the move.

The leadership change comes on the heels of allegations that a South Pittsburg officer repeatedly kicked a handcuffed suspect in the head during an arrest last week.

"At the present time, that officer is on administrative leave pending the outcome from the [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation]," Vess said. "It's been turned over to [them]. As soon as I get a report from them, it'll be made public, and you'll know."

The officer was injured during the altercation and may have to have surgery, he said.

"He will not be returning to work until, No. 1, we get his leg fixed, and No. 2, the outcome of the investigation by the TBI," Vess said.

He said he couldn't comment further about an ongoing investigation.

One woman at the meeting said she filed a complaint last week about that same officer, whom she alleged threatened to assault her.

When she asked city leaders what was being done about her grievance, Vess said he "had no idea" what the woman was describing.

The woman said she filed the complaint with Meeks.

"I'll have to get into it and get back with you because it's the first time I've heard anything about it," Vess said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at

This story was updated Oct. 11 at 11:59 p.m.