By Camm Ashford
Members of the clergy, community leaders and concerned citizens gathered last Friday on the steps of City Hall to express their support for Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy.
The 10 a.m. press conference came in the wake of news that police union organizations had tendered a “lack of confidence” vote in Chief Murphy. The vote came after union officials learned that Murphy had submitted the names of 15 Chattanooga police officers to the U.S. Attorney for their “misrepresentation of facts” in cases that took place prior to her coming to the city.
The officers were reassigned after being notified they would be ineligible to testify in court over sustained accusations of misrepresentation.
The police unions accuse Chief Murphy of violating department policy over the reassignment process.
“Over the past few weeks, Chief Murphy has been under attack because 15 officers have been deemed unreliable for court testimony due to sustained allegations of untruthfulness or misrepresentation,” said the Rev. Dr. Ernest L. Reid, pastor at the Second Missionary Baptist Church of Chattanooga.
“The question that must be raised is not about Chief Murphy’s leadership or credibility, but the credibility of the 15 officers in question. Our purpose for being here is to provide a visible show of support and solidarity for our Chief of Police Celeste Murphy. Once again, the phrase of ‘lack of confidence’ should not be directed towards Chief Murphy. Those three words ‘lack of confidence’ should be directed to those officers whose credibility has been deemed unreliable.”
Dr. Reid said Chief Murphy has been unfairly attacked for her actions.
“Chief Murphy’s credentials while on the Atlanta Police Department were impeccable, and those qualities of leadership have carried over into her role in Chattanooga,” he said. “She has done an excellent job while only being on the job four months. We asked for leadership, and she provides it. We asked for integrity and credibility, and she shows it. We understand that not everyone is receptive of Chief Murphy, but she deserves the time, opportunity and the latitude to execute the duties of her office.”
Jenny Hill, the city councilwoman representing District 2 in Chattanooga, weighed in.
“We have police officers that do a terrific job every day, but when we make mistakes, we have to be held accountable for them,” she said.
District 9 Chattanooga City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said, “We have a united, collective voice among our black people, because we are the ones that have been so fearful of police officers.”
Corliss Cooper, a retired captain from the Chattanooga Police Department said of Chief Murphy, “She’s going to be a good steward for this city, and a good representation as the chief of police, if she’s given the opportunity to do so. I wish I still had time that I was still working there so that I could work for her.”
Dr. Reid said the misrepresentation of facts by police officers not only erodes trust, but also is devastating to innocent citizens.
“Every day, there are police officers across the country who submit false and misleading statements under oath,” he noted. “These false statements and deceptive statements impact the lives of individuals. Innocent people are sent to jail, and their reputations are destroyed. These false statements have separated families and cause economic pain. Children are without mothers and fathers because of a misrepresentation of the truth.”
The city has not yet released the names of the 15 officers who were involved in the reassignment process, or what they were accused of doing to be reprimanded.
The accused officers have been reassigned to non-enforcement duties with no loss of pay.
Mayor Tim Kelly said his office has reached an agreement with the officers. An internal committee will review their reassignment, but the ultimate decision will stay with Chief Murphy, he said.
Other community leaders and elected officials who stood on Chattanooga City Council’s front steps last Friday to show support for Chief Murphy were: John Duke Franklin, Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, the Rev. Alan J. Holman Sr., the Rev. Ternae Jordan, Dr. William T. Ladd III, Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, James Mooreland, Chattanooga City Councilwoman Marvene Noel, John Taylor and Dr. Jeffery T. Wilson, among others.