Tuesday, April 11, 2017

TOP STORY >> Majority of council supports new chief

Leader staff writer

Despite concerns from Alderman Tara Smith, some members of the police department and others, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher is standing by his decision to hire Geoffrey Herweg to head the city’s police department, even though he pleaded guilty 15 years ago to a misdemeanor.

Herweg, who is being sworn in Friday, was set to be in town Tuesday to talk privately to members of the police department, but didn’t arrive in Jacksonville until late Tuesday evening.

“He’ll meet with the department today,” Fletcher said.

“I’m staking my credibility on his credibility,” the mayor said. “I’m not worried about whether he can hold a gun or write tickets. I want a leader who has the ability to produce leaders, and Herweg is that person.”

Herweg told The Leader on Tuesday that once he starts, his first job will be an internal review of the department. “I’ve seen it from the outside, but I need to look at it from the inside and see the strengths, weaknesses and needs. I know patrol vehicle and pay will be high on the list,” Herweg said.

He said the review would include talking to the commanders, the captains, the sergeants and would take about a month.

But, Smith points out, the council can override the mayor’s pick by a two-thirds vote, although there doesn’t seem to be six aldermen ready to vote for ouster. She made it clear Tuesday that she has not changed her stance that Herweg — who was until last week the deputy police chief in Lovington, N.M. — is the wrong man for the job. She cannot believe he was the best choice among 31 applicants.

“The NAACP and the FOP have both raised concerns regarding the hiring of Mr. Herweg,” Smith said. “And did he really meet the job ‘requirements?’ According to an FOI, he did not.”

Smith reiterated that the city council has the power to un-hire Herweg at next week’s council meeting with a 7-3 vote.

“Council members should know that the community and our officers will be watching to see who votes which way. Let’s stick to the facts and go back to the applicant pool to find a new police chief,” she said.

“The Jacksonville Police Department and our citizens deserve a police chief with exceptional leadership skills, solid credibility and ethical standards, and undeniable integrity,” Smith added.

But at this point, Aldermen Terry San-sing, James Bolden, Mike Traylor, Kenny Elliott, Mary Twitty and Kevin McCleary all seem to be backing the mayor and Herweg.

Aldermen Les Collins and Barbara Mashburn did not return phone calls before press time.

Bolden stands by the mayor’s decision. “It’s the mayor’s job to hire department heads, not the aldermen’s job. I’m not going to condemn a man until he has a chance, and everyone deserves a second chance,” he said.

Twitty said she has been assured by retiring Police Chief Kenny Boyd and Fire Chief Alan Laughy that Herweg was “by far the best of the applicants. I have to trust those that were in on the interviews and trust their judgment.”

Twitty still wants to meet with with Herweg one on one, perhaps as soon as this week. “There are two sides to every story, but I do have some questions I want answers to,” Twitty said.

Members of the selection committee – the mayor, Director of Administration Jim Durham, Human Resource Director Jill Ross, Chief Boyd and Fire Chief Laughy – unanimously voted for Herweg over the No. 2 choice, Deputy Chief Kenneth Scott of the Orleans Parrish Sherriff’s Department in Louisiana.

Herweg pleaded guilty 15 years to filing a false police report, a misdemeanor, stemming from an incident two years earlier than that.

The selection committee was well aware of the Class B misdemeanor of an “accident involving less than $200 damage to a vehicle” and “filing a false police report.”

In a plea deal, the accident charges were dropped for a guilty plea for “filing a false police report.”

The incident cost Herweg his Texas law-enforcement license, and he left the state out of embarrassment, he said.

Fletcher said, “How many times does this guy have to start over and atone for his mistake? A mistake made 17 years ago. I truly believe once he gets here, within six months, we’ll all be glad he’s our chief.”

The Leader has sent eight Freedom of Information Act requests to Williamson County in Texas, Taylor, Texas, and Lovington, seeking official information regarding the charges, the case and the circumstances of the incident.

Alderman Sansing, who met Herweg when the chief-to-be was in town after his final interview, said he was aware of the old incident and it was a non-issue. “I’m very impressed with his credentials,” he said.

Alderman Kevin McCleary said, “I’ve not met the new chief, but everything I’ve heard about him is positive. And we’ve all made mistakes in our lives. I do want to meet and talk with him, but I think as all the details come out, Jacksonville residents will understand.”

According to court records from Williamson County, Texas, Herweg’s incident occurred on Christmas Eve 2000 while he was a police officer in Taylor, Texas.

Court records indicate a sentence of three days with credit given for two days served, though Herweg said he actually spent only an hour in jail and that was during the booking process.

Herweg said he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a garage door and then drove home.

The new police chief said, “I fell asleep hard, and after the crash just drove home. When I was questioned about it a short time later, I was still coming out of that fog and didn’t tell the truth. But a few hours later I went to the chief and reported it properly, saying I was at fault.”

He added, “I lost my integrity at first, but then got it back.”

Herweg later took a job patrolling Lake Pleasant, Ariz., and then went to work for the Tonopah nuclear plant before going overseas as a security contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He called the background checks for the overseas jobs as a “colonoscopy on steroids.” Herweg said the application included 40-pages of background and personal history. He had to be heavily scrutinized to get the nuclear position, too.

With the security clearances he received through the Department of Defense and the Department of State for those positions, he feels what happened 17 years ago should be behind him.