By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Former Deputy Police Chief Robert Hall will return to the department March 29 as second in command of the 127-member force.
Police Chief Tony Carleton made the announcement at a press conference held at his Front Street office Monday afternoon. He was joined by Hall and his two majors, Jackie Clayton and Anthony Hill.
“I have known Mr. Hall for a long time,” Carleton said. “I have reviewed the evidence surrounding his resignation several years ago, and I do not find that it outweighs the benefits he brings to our force when compared to the otherwise outstanding career he had forged.”
It was three years ago this month that Hall resigned from the department after a tumultuous episode stemming from his release of a hit-and-run suspect.
On May 28, 2006, Hall set free 20-year-old Jamison Shells after he’d been arrested for running over a teenage bicyclist and leaving the scene.
Hall was indicted on felony charges related to the incident and, on March 2, 2007, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and received a one-year suspended jail sentence and $1,000 in fines. He resigned from the department and went to work for the Community Development Foundation.
In a separate trial, Shells pleaded guilty to DUI maiming and leaving the scene. He received a 15-year prison sentence and $80,000 in fines, but his sentence later was reduced.
Shells now is free.
The saga created divisions within the community, the city and the police department. Many believed Hall was framed and intentionally ousted because of his race and his power.
Hall is African-American and, at the time, was thought to have been next in line for the chief position.
But Carleton said this week he wants to close that chapter of history and focus instead on the future.
“I believe it is the interest of all the citizens of Tupelo who want a safe city to give him a second chance,” Carleton said. “And I look forward to working with him as we provide our citizens with the safest city in America.”
Hall is resigning as head of security at the Toyota facility near Blue Springs, where he has worked nearly two years. He said he’ll miss the company and his colleagues but relishes the opportunity to return to his first career: policing.
“I am excited to be joining Chief Carleton’s leadership team and returning to a job I love in the Tupelo Police Department,” Hall said. “I deeply appreciate the second chance I’ve been given. I will do everything I can, every day, to serve the citizens of this great city and make it the safest city in America.”
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and many City Council members gave their full support to the decision, saying they trust Carleton’s judgment and leadership.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis said the move will help mend race relations that frayed after the Shells incident.
“It will help the community a lot,” said Davis, one of two minority council members. “A lot of people in the African-American community have been waiting for this to happen, and this will help with mending problems that have gone on in the community.”
But Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington called the move a mistake – not because of Hall’s character or abilities, but because of the circumstances surrounding his earlier departure.
“As I have shared with the mayor and the chief, I am afraid this will be a huge distraction for the city and it will question the credibility of the police department,” Whittington told the Daily Journal. “Even though I strongly disagree with this hire, I will continue to support the police department and all other city departments.”
Carleton, who became chief Jan. 1, had met individually with council members over the past couple weeks to outline plans for Hall’s return. But many in the police department didn’t find out until Monday.
Clayton, who supervisors about 80 percent of the department’s staff, said he doesn’t yet know what his employees think of the move and said some newer hires don’t even know Hall.
“I can’t speak for everybody else,” Clayton said, “but I won’t have a problem working under him.”
The department has had a vacancy since the October retirement of Maj. Ronnie Thomas and has not had a deputy chief since Hall had resigned in 2007.
Carleton said Hall’s hire will fill the void in his leadership team.
When he returns, Hall said, he wants to focus on community building and officer training, as well as on improving the department’s image.
“We want people to run to us and not from us,” Hall said. “We want other cities to look to Tupelo as a model.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.