ABERDEEN – Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and his former political rival, Doyce Deas, were two of several witnesses to testify on the second day of former Tupelo Police Capt. Cliff Hardy’s lawsuit against the city.
Others to take the stand included former Tupelo Police Deputy Chief Robert Hall, current Police Maj. Anthony Hill, several police sergeants and licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Priscilla Roth-Wall.
Although the trial focuses on whether Hardy was unfairly pushed out at the Tupelo PD for making public statements against the department, it also examines the circumstances leading to Hardy’s statements – namely, those involving Hall.
On Tuesday, Hall testified about his role in releasing the suspect of a May 28, 2006 hit-and-run accident and how he was later demoted, investigated, suspended and indicted on felony charges over the incident. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of obstruction and accessory, and a felony perjury charge was dropped.
It was during Hall’s investigation that Hardy spoke out in his defense at an Oct. 12, 2006, city-sponsored racial reconciliation forum. He claimed Hall was targeted because he’s black. Hardy is white.
Deas, who was a City Councilwoman at the time and helped organize the forum, said she welcomed Hardy’s comments at the public event. She also said they confirmed statements by other community members that racial discrimination indeed existed within the police department.
One week later, Hall was charged with obstruction of justice, accessory after the fact and perjury.
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.
Hardy’s lawsuit claims the police department pushed him out with reassignments and transfers over several months after he spoke out at the forum. He contends his right to free speech outweighs TPD’s concerns about its effect on police morale and operations.
The city likely will have a chance to make its case today, but Tuesday went to Hardy’s side. And Hall was the morning’s star witness.
Before now, Hall has been reluctant to publicly discuss his situation. But in the U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, he revealed his reasons behind releasing the hit-and-run suspect and that he had initial support in doing so from Police Chief Harold 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.
“I am denying that I did anything wrong,” said Hall, dressed in a dark suit and light blue tie.
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.
Hall said Reed, who was vice chairman of the Community Development Foundation at the time, arranged to get him a job at CDF if he’d plead guilty to the misdemeanors.
After his plea in March 2007, Hall became CDF’s director of community development, a position he held until going to work security for Toyota.
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’s situation. He also said he talked about it personally with Chaffin and District Attorney John Young.
It was Young who presented evidence against Hall at the Lee County Grand Jury, which eventually indicted the former police deputy chief.
Other witnesses called testified that Hardy loved his job, was professional and well-respected. Hill, who was Hardy’s direct supervisor, said he never had problems with Hardy and wasn’t given a reason for his transfer.
Hill, along with Sgts. Katarsha White and Michael Russell, further said that Hardy’s speech did not affect morale within the police department – something the defense will dispute.
Read Wednesday’s Daily Journal for other details.
Emily Le Coz / Daily Journal