ABERDEEN – Former Tupelo Police Deputy Chief Robert Hall says he pleaded guilty to 2007 misdemeanor charges because he feared he would go to prison if he didn’t.
“Yes, sir, I am denying that I did anything wrong,” Hall answered Tupelo attorney Jim Waide, who questioned him Tuesday in a federal lawsuit brought by former Tupelo Police Capt. Cliff Hardy.
Hardy claims the department leadership pushed him out after he spoke in Hall’s defense at an Oct. 12, 2006, public forum about racial reconciliation.
The City Council sponsored the event to gather public comments about allegations of racial bias in hirings and promotions within TPD and the Tupelo Schools.
Hardy is white and Hall is black.
Hall said he didn’t believe Hardy’s earlier warnings that white officers were plotting to get rid of him out of fear Hall would become chief.
Although the trial focuses on whether TPD retaliated against Hardy, it also examines the circumstances leading to Hardy’s statements – namely, those involving Hall.
Tuesday, Hall testified about his role in releasing the suspect of a May 28, 2006, hit-and-run accident and how he was demoted, investigated, suspended and indicted on felony charges over the incident. He later avoided jail time by pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of obstruction and accessory, and a felony perjury charge was dropped.
It was during Hall’s investigation that Hardy spoke up for him, saying Hall was targeted because of his race.
Today, the city’s attorneys will get their chance to question Hardy, who spent nearly two hours telling the eight-member jury what led him to be before them. Court begins at 9 a.m. with Judge Sharion Aycock presiding.
Tuesday, he told them how he and Hardy became close personal and professional friends when they attended the Mississippi Police Academy together.
They worked the same shifts, shared experiences, solved crimes as detectives together and worked well as a team, Hardy recalled.
Ultimately, Hall became deputy chief, while Hardy took on wide responsibilities as Internal Affairs officer and coordinator for CrimeStoppers, Community Oriented Policing, the Police Athletic League, Senior Support Services, Tupelo Apartment Consortium and a Cops amp& Kids program.
He also accused Chief Harold Chaffin, whom he said he once “looked up to,” of selectively assigning him to investigate only officers Chaffin wanted fired.
Chaffin likely will get his chance on the stand soon.
Other witnesses included Doyce Deas, who as a City Councilwoman helped organize the forum. She said she welcomed Hardy’s comments at the event and that they confirmed statements by other community members that racial discrimination existed within the police department.
One week later, Hall was indicted.
A few weeks after that, Hardy was removed from his position as internal affairs officer. And a few months later, he was stripped of his other duties and reassigned to a low-level position. He resigned shortly thereafter.
Before now, Hall has been reluctant to publicly discuss his fall from grace. But in the U.S. District Court, he revealed his reasons behind releasing the hit-and-run suspect and that he had initial support to do so from Chief Chaffin.
Hall said the arresting officer at that accident had recent complaints about falsely charging people with DUIs and that another officer was involved in an ongoing investigation over a shooting incident. Also, he said, no one called an accident reconstruction team to the scene.
Hall said he released the suspect pending an investigation with knowledge that charges could still be filed.
Hall also said Chaffin told him not to worry about rumors he’d be punished for his decision, but Chaffin later suspended him, claiming the chief had to “play the game” upon receiving complaints from other officers about Hall.
The only reason he pleaded guilty to the charges, he said, was because of the stress it caused him, the division it created in the community and because he had a job offer contingent upon the pleas.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr., among the other witnesses, cautiously skirted a question from Waide about whether, as vice chairman of the Community Development Foundation at the time, he arranged to get Hall a job at CDF if he would plead guilty to the misdemeanors.
Reed, who became mayor earlier this month, said in his testimony that he didn’t “specifically” help Hall get his CDF job, although he admitted to being concerned about Hall, whom he had come to know well when they set up the PAL program.
He also said he talked about Hall’s situation with Chaffin and District Attorney John Young.
Other witnesses testified that Hardy loved his job, was professional and well-respected. Several TPD employees also said Hardy’s speech did not affect morale within the police department – something the defense will dispute.
Contact Patsy Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or email@example.com, and Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Le Coz and Patsy Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal