UPDATE: Suspended Chester cops pursue town, administrator and mayor

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Suspended Chester City Police Chief Eric Williams and two former officers have filed a lawsuit against the City of Chester Mayor Wanda Stringfellow and City Administrator Stephanie Jackson over allegations of negligence, breach of contract, wrongful dismissal, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, salary violation of payment, defamation and civil conspiracy.

Williams, along with Officers Travis Moore and Rickey Sanders were all suspended by the City of Chester earlier this year as the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) launched an initial investigation into the police department finances. It eventually turned into a full-fledged investigation, which spanned six months, but when it was concluded, SLED cleared the men of any wrongdoing. Williams in fact remained employed by the city but was not reinstated once cleared, although personnel matters relating to the police department were discussed by Chester City Council in executive session on several occasions during the month. following the end of the investigation. Moore resigned this summer for benefits reasons (per attorney Paul Porter) and Sanders is no longer employed by the city, although he and Porter maintain he did not resign. It is the City’s claim that he did it. Once acquitted, the men said they wanted their jobs back, as well as back wages and said legal action would be taken. Tuesday, it’s done.

The lawsuit, filed by Porter in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, names the town of Chester, Stringfellow and Jackson as defendants. The lawsuit notes that Williams has been a 27-year law enforcement veteran and has never received disciplinary action of any kind from the city. Of note, Moore spent 10 years with the Chester Police Department, was never disciplined and received performance reviews indicating that he “met or exceeded expectations.” Sanders spent nine years with the department in which he was not disciplined and received performance reviews that also met or exceeded expectations. In contrast, the lawsuit notes that Jackson had no municipal experience prior to being hired by the city, had a long-standing relationship with Stringfellow, and that her old friend lobbied for her to get the job. He also refers to the fact that Stringfellow was fined heavily by the State Ethics Commission and that during his four non-consecutive terms as mayor, “had a reputation for interfering in the affairs of the police service “.

The lawsuit alleges the problems started with Ariane McCree’s shooting involving police at Chester Walmart in November 2019. A number of deputies on leave were working in store security that day and they arrested McCree for theft. on the shelf. Surveillance footage at a loss prevention office showed McCree (handcuffed behind his back) rushed an officer and knocked him down before running away to the parking lot. McCree (who in a SLED report is said to be suffering from depression, sleep deprivation, drug use, and mood and personality changes) allegedly retrieved a handgun from his car, approached officers with the gun on his hip and did not obey orders. to drop it. He was shot and although officers treated his injuries until EMS arrived to take him to hospital, he died soon after. The officers were cleared by state attorney general Alan Wilson, who ruled that they were protecting themselves and the public. Stringfellow was a relative of McCree and the lawsuit alleges that things changed for the officers after that.

“The accused Stringfellow has sought to stir up controversy over the shooting involving an officer and specifically called for the dismissal of the plaintiff Williams and the officers involved in the shooting,” the prosecution says.

At least publicly, in public meetings, Stringfellow did not offer to fire Williams, but made two attempts to fire three officers involved in the shooting on the grounds that they did not follow the department’s standard operating procedure. Both attempts were unsuccessful, but Chester City Council later voted to seek reimbursement of workers’ compensation funds paid to these officers. They spent some time off work due to injuries related to the incident.

Stringfellow also showed up at a press conference held by Williams where he attempted to answer lingering questions from the community about the McCree shooting. She said that an officer did not follow standard operating procedure (by not wearing a body camera), it could be reasonable to think that others could have violated the policy by not giving McCree the order to stop before firing. She also grasped the fact that a police officer did not trigger his camera until after the shooting. There was still video, but no sound until McCree was on the ground. The only available sound of the officer meeting McCree before the first shot was from a car dashboard camera, indicating that the officer had shouted something at McCree, although it was not not know exactly what. Stringfellow then asked Williams to demonstrate how someone could be handcuffed behind their back while pointing a gun.

“Since we’re trying to be transparent, I’d like to see a full demonstration with you handcuffed behind your back. I ask you to do it as the mayor of this city, ”Stringfellow said.

Williams was initially reluctant to do so, but was eventually handcuffed and showed he was still able to point a gun from his hip. This incident is mentioned in the lawsuit, which also states that she called Williams and the officers “murderers and killers” and told Williams through a megaphone to “put out her black ass” and quit.

The lawsuit claims that in January, it was the defendants who fired SLED, accusing Williams and the two officers of unlawful conduct, an act which the lawsuit says was committed out of revenge. The News & Reporter has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain tapes of SLED’s investigation and has been advised that the documents will be provided, although they have not yet been provided. The judicial version of what happened is that “the basis of the investigation was a known practice of moonlighting by a police officer for a treatment, education and prevention center. The lawsuit says the practice predates Williams’ hiring, that the payment method was handled transparently (and the same way it was before Williams became chef). There was also an allegation that Williams opened a bank account without authorization, however, Williams maintains he was authorized to open the account. Jackson and Stringfellow knew all of Williams’ practices were permitted before making a false report to SLED, according to the lawsuit, which also says Jackson was dishonest to SLED and that Stringfellow provided “non-privileged false remarks to Melba Carter … that the plaintiffs were guilty of criminal wrongdoing (and) the remarks were then reposted “to the general public via social media.”

Complainants say they were denied due grievance procedures, did not receive back pay once they were released, and their benefits were also not paid. (These claims relate to the allegation of breach of contract and the claim of a breach of wage payment).

The negligence allegation alleges that both Stringfellow and Jackson possess a “penchant for selfish behavior to the detriment of city employees and others on the basis of their own personal prerogatives” and that the city did not use any checks and balances to prevent Stringfellow from acting outside the scope of his limited power. Jackson, according to the lawsuit, is not qualified for her job and the two worked together to target and eliminate the men after McCree’s shooting. The unjustified count indicates that the men were fired for applying the law “equally and appropriately”. Allegation of abuse of process says city, through its agents, had the men investigated on the basis of “frivolous and fabricated allegations of wrongdoing “and that they were targeted for revenge because they did not” give in to the selfish predilections of some of the city’s rulers. They claim to have lost wages and benefits while enduring suffering, shocks , humiliation and loss of reputation.

Malicious Prosecution Charge Alleges City Agents “Lied to Law Enforcement Officers and Blocked Investigations to Extend the Investigation and Extend the Period During Which Complainants Have Been Suspended and on Unpaid Leave “. Jackson and Stringfellow also “knowingly made false or reckless allegations against the criminal plaintiffs” and did so maliciously, with the intent to damage the reputations of the three men, amounting to libel, they claim.

The charge of civil conspiracy concerns Jackson and Stringfellow who allegedly conspired to make the men lose their jobs and damage their reputation.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and damages, although no specific amount is mentioned, as well as legal fees.

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