By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A day after being denied his law enforcement rectification, Robert Hall is once again Tupelo’s former deputy police chief.
During a called press conference Friday, Hall announced his decision not to appeal the decision by the Board on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training to deny granting him a law enforcement certificate.
“When I was given an opportunity to return to my chosen profession for which I had trained and dedicated my life, I was so pleased to do so,” Hall said in a written statement. “However, with yesterday’s decision by the board it is obvious to me that my future is not with the Tupelo Police Department. For that reason I am tendering my resignation to Police Chief Tony Carleton effective today. I am electing not to go through the appeals process.”
Hall’s first resignation came in 2007 after more than 20 years as an officer. He resigned after he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges – accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice by information in connection with his releasing a hit-and-run suspect in May 2006. The hit-and-run accident caused serious injuries to a 14-year-old boy.
Carleton, who rehired Hall for the job earlier this year, said Hall’s loss is a blow to the city and police department.
“I am sad for the city to lose a leader in a department who was certainly beneficial to our city,” said Carleton. “We hate to lose him. I know Robert is a good leader and he will land on his feet. God has bigger plans for him and I feel certain that he will succeed at his future endeavors.”
Hall’s lack of certification had caused friction on the City Council during budget hearings over the last several months, and it spilled out after the press conference when Ward 4’s Nettie Davis verbally lashed out at Jim Newell of District 3.
“I guess you are satisfied now, Jim,” she said to the councilman as she left the room.
Before Hall’s announcement, Davis pledged her support for Hall by saying, “I stand behind Robert. Robert is a good man and I stand by him. All of this is a conspiracy.”
“I was there to meet Robert when he arrived back from Jackson last night because I’ve been knowing him for a long time and I worried about him,” Davis said Friday night. “He was really hurt, and that disturbed me real bad. I still feel like he had not done anything wrong. I feel like he was an asset to the city, and he had a lot to offer. I believe he really was sincere about his commitment to law enforcement.”
Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings also had supported Hall remaining with the force.
“It’s a great loss for the city, and it’s a great loss for the community,” Jennings said. “I’ve been knowing Robert for about 20 years. He’s done so much for our community and our city. He’s a trustworthy officer, and he’ll be greatly missed. My prayers go out to him and his family. I’m going to leave it at that.”
Two other council members, however, believed resigning was the right thing to do in light of the situation.
“I think it was the appropriate thing for him to do, to resign,” said Ward 1 Markel Whittington. “You know, ever since he’s been with the city it has created some stress. I really feel bad for Robert, because I think he was totally misled from the get-go. I don’t know who talked him into taking the position, and I don’t understand. Now maybe the city can move forward.”
Said Ward 6 Councilman Mike Byran: “I’m actually glad that Mr. Hall put in his resignation because he couldn’t get certified, and to hold that position I think that you should be certified. He should have went through this process before he was even hired. I was disappointed with the mayor and the chief for bringing back Robert Hall without his certification. We all need to move forward now.”
People in the community have mixed results about Hall’s resignation and hiring as deputy police chief.
Many people said Hall’s hire was based on race, a theory that both Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and Carleton have confirmed to a certain extent. Both Carleton and Reed told BLEOST that Hall’s hire was in part to show the community that a white chief and black deputy chief could work together. Reed also said Hall’s hire helped improve race relations in the city.
Now that Hall is off the force, some people in the black community worry that their voices will go unheard. Raymond Collins, 39, of Tupelo said Hall’s resignation is bad news for the black community.
“Blacks have been historically untrusting of the law for whatever reasons,” said Collins, who is black. “So how will the black community look at police without someone there they can relate to. A lot of people are going to read this and say it doesn’t matter what color the officer is, but that’s easy to say when the people representing you look like you and attend church where you attend. But what happens to those of us who feel we don’t have that person to turn to?”
Shawn Pannel, 34, who is white, said he feels Hall’s decision to step down was long overdue and had nothing to do with race.
“It wasn’t because he was black that people gave him so much opposition for taking the job back,” said Pannel. “It was because he pleaded guilty to a crime and had lost the trust of the people he was sworn to protect. I don’t care what color he was, he did wrong. If it were a white officer I’d feel the same way.”
Hall said he will continue to support the city.
“I love Tupelo,” Hall said. “I love this community. I’ve spent the past 20 years of my life protecting this city and making sure it was safe and I want to stay around and continue to support Tupelo.”
Carleton said there has been no thought as to when or by whom the deputy chief’s position will be filled.
Council President Fred Pitts wants to see the police force and city overcome this situation and move on to serve Tupelo.
“I would hope that the issue would be solved and over with and that we can move on to the many positive things we have going on in Tupelo and not dwell on this,” Pitts said. “He resigned. What else do they want out of this man? I wish him the best.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reporter Emily Le Coz contributed to this article.