ABERDEEN – The jury returns at 9 this morning to continue deliberations in former police Capt. Cliff Hardy’s lawsuit against the city of Tupelo.
Hardy seeks monetary damages for back pay, possible forward pay and compensation for physical and emotional distress he claims were caused when the Tupelo Police Department pushed him out after 19 years.
The city’s attorneys say Hardy got what he deserved – loss of responsibility as Internal Affairs officer after making a public speech critical of the department. He later was reassigned to an apartment-patrol unit with a patrolman he once had written up for poor job performance.
The trial began Monday in U.S. District Court with Judge Sharion Aycock presiding.
Hardy claims TPD and Chief Harold Chaffin retaliated against him after he spoke out in a city-sponsored forum on race relations Oct. 12, 2006. He told the crowd he believed his friend and longtime colleague, then-Deputy Chief Robert Hall, was being persecuted because of his race.
Hall had been demoted and was under a criminal investigation about his release of a hit-and-run suspect in May 2006.
Hardy is white and Hall is black.
Late Thursday afternoon, both sides’ attorneys made closing arguments to the jury of four men and four women. The only black member of the jury is a woman.
Most of the earlier part of the day was occupied by courtroom negotiations over jury instructions and wording of verdict forms.
However, Hardy’s attorney, Jim Waide, recalled two witnesses to rebut testimony given late Wednesday during the city’s defense case.
Appearing were Hall and police Maj. Anthony Hill.
While Hill had little to offer except vague knowledge of a county jail beating incident which may have involved Tupelo police officers, Hall point-blank said Chaffin never ordered him not to release the hit-and-run suspect, who was the son of friends of Hall.
With a spotless job record until then, Hall found himself in a downward spiral of demotion, suspensions, grand jury indictment and ultimate guilty pleas to misdemeanors relating to the release. Hall said he pleaded guilty to avoid jail time, then he resigned from the department.
Former Tupelo Councilwoman Doyce Deas also took the stand to tell her perspective on the city’s hiring of a consultant to study allegations of racial discrimination in city departments, especially the police.
She also provided a copy of the consultant’s report, which will remain under court seal from an earlier ruling to safeguard personal information.
Hardy’s other attorney, Shane McLaughlin, led off closing arguments, saying, “If the Police Department could silence the only people who know what’s going on, the First Amendment couldn’t mean a thing.”
City attorneys Berkley Huskison and John S. Hill insisted Hardy’s speech was reckless, false and about poor decisions made by Hall and Hardy, not about retaliation.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patsy Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal