The city of East Ridge fired police Chief J.R. Reed after an investigation found a "harrowing and disturbing environment" inside the police department, according to a six-page letter to Reed from acting City Manager Kenny Custer.
Reed's firing was announced Thursday night after the regular meeting of the East Ridge City Council. Reed had been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 21, 2018.
The March 13 termination letter cites nine "prevailing issues" uncovered through Custer's investigation, which included nine interviews with members of the police department and city administration. The issues involved neglecting requests for equipment, failure to properly budget for operating the department, ordering officers to perform car license tag identification searches on vehicles within a gated community, improper management of $24,000 in funds collected by the police department and blaming others for the department's shortcomings.
Custer said that after reviewing "the record as a whole, the consensus that resulted is that there is an institutional lack of leadership by you as chief of the Police Department." Custer's letter went on to say that interviews conducted in the investigation "depicted a harrowing and disturbing environment within the department."
Several attempts to reach Reed were unsuccessful.
"I know J.R. is a good man, and this is an unfortunate situation," said Mayor Brian Williams on Saturday before a citizen's meeting in East Ridge. "The council had no input or give direction to Kenny on the outcome."
Wilson also said he expected the new city manager to fill the position in conjunction with Custer. The council unanimously voted Thursday to extend an offer to Sparta city manager Chris Dorsey, a Hixson resident who previously served as city manager in Red Bank and Signal Mountain. Dorsey will replace Scott Miller, who resigned last August and is a central player in the Custer investigation of Reed.
Dorsey said Friday he had talked with East Ridge city attorney Mark Litchford and expected to work through a "few minor details over the next few days."
Williams said Saturday he expected Dorsey to accept the offer in a matter of a few business days.
The Times Free Press previously reported on problems in the department, which Reed has led since 2014 after working more than 20 years as a patrolman.
In the spring of 2018, the majority of the department's roughly 45-person unionized because of complaints with Reed's management.
A union representative said Reed rejected requests for simple pieces of equipment, such as boots and rubber gloves, and penalized a SWAT officer for bringing up concerns with outdated safety vests. The representative added that Reed also directed supervisors to use a special criminal database to gather information on cars parked in a gated neighborhood. Reed planned to share that information with representatives of that neighborhood association, according to the union representative and emails obtained through a public records request. The supervisors ultimately did not obey Reed's order because they believed it violated the terms of an agreement with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that allowed them to use the database in the first place.
Custer's letter outlines the responsibilities for the police chief, as outlined in the city charter, and states that the minimum qualifications for the police chief are, "at a minimum, effective leadership, management and operational skills to guide the Police Department." It then goes on to say that the investigation of Reed "demonstrates a pattern of performance that fails to meet the minimum acceptable level expected and required by the chief of police."
Custer also explained the charges against Reed in a Feb. 14 meeting with Reed and his attorney, and Reed presented his defense in a meeting on March 8.
The termination letter rebuts Reed's assertion that he never received "counseling or direction" from the city administration regarding problems with the police department. Custer cites testimony from former City Manager Scott Miller regarding the numerous times he met with Reed's leadership of the department and Reed's failure to produce an equipment replacement plan for the police. East Ridge spent $107,000 of unbudgeted funds, the letter says, to cover the cost for new safety equipment after the lack of basic supplies was uncovered last summer. The lack of equipment led to deactivating the East Ridge SWAT team until new body armor arrived. Acting police chief Stan Allen told council members Thursday night that the body armor had arrived and that the SWAT team had been reactivated.
The letter also cites Miller as saying Reed was told by Miller on "numerous occasions" to update current police policies and procedures, but that Reed did not initiate a review until mid-September 2018.
"Simply put," the letter states, " despite Mr. Miller's repeated efforts to counsel and assist you in improving your leadership and administration of the police department, you failed to meet the standards required for chief of police."
Custer also questioned Reed's actions in the internal investigation of officer Adam Rose, who was fired Nov. 2, 2018, for having a relationship with an 18-year-old high school student. Rose was initially cleared after an internal investigation, but Custer said Reed did not review all the evidence prior to deciding to clear Rose. Custer then reversed the decision and fired Rose for failing to uphold accepted community standards. Though Rose, who was 29 at the time, appealed Custer's November 2018 ruling, an empaneled group of citizens upheld the termination after a hearing.
Reed said he did not review all the evidence because he did not want to interfere with the investigation.
In the termination letter, Custer disputed the validity of that claim and said, "as the chief of the police department, you are well aware of the critical importance of conducting thorough investigations and failing to review all available material without justification breaches the confidence and trust required of your position. Indeed, it is your express responsibility to direct and control all internal affairs matters and you failed to fulfill that duty."
Custer directed Reed to meet with the city's human resources department to determine what "wages/and salary" Reed is owed. Under city policy, Reed has the right to appeal the termination.
Staff writer Zack Peterson contributed to this story.
Contact Davis Lundy at firstname.lastname@example.org.