Aldermen Vote to Return Richard Jennings to the Police Department

August 23, 2007
Dwayne Page

Smithville Police Lieutenant Richard Jennings has got his job back.

By a vote of 3 to 2 Monday night, the Board of Aldermen, following a lengthy hearing, overturned the termination of Jennings.

Alderman Willie Thomas made a motion that Jennings be returned to the police department with "full pay". Alderman Jerry Hutchins', Sr. seconded the motion. Alderman Tonya Sullivan joined Thomas and Hutchins in voting to reinstate Jennings, but aldermen Cecil Burger and Steve White voted to uphold the firing.

After the vote, Mayor Taft Hendrixson called for a recess, which was approved by the aldermen. Hendrixson left the meeting room and went down stairs, apparently to ponder casting a veto. But when he returned later and called the meeting back into session, Mayor Hendrixson stated that he would not veto the board's decision, which was met with applause from members of the audience.

Lieutenant Jennings was accused of removing weapons, inventory files, ammunition, and other items from the police department, some of which were allegedly found in his personal possession.

On Friday, August 3rd, Jennings was placed on suspension with pay pending termination, following an internal police department investigation, and Thursday afternoon, August 9th, the case against him was presented to the city's discipline hearing authority, which is made up of Mayor Hendrixson, Police Commissioner Cecil Burger, and City Recorder Burnace Vandergriff. After hearing the evidence, the vote was 3 to 0 to terminate Jennings.

Jennings waived his right to appear before the three member discipline board and sent word through his attorney, Adam Parrish, that he would appeal his case to the entire board of mayor and aldermen, which had the final say.

As the hearing began Monday night, Police Chief Tom Stufano read a lengthy prepared statement describing in detail the allegations against Jennings, including alleged violations of Smithville Police Department Policies and Procedures in failing to take proper care of city equipment, or theft of city property.

The specific allegations included the removal without authorization of (1) AR-15 machine gun and (3) concussion hand grenades and a 14 inch tactical shotgun from the department armory which were found in (Jennings) personal possession (personal vehicle, personal residence).; removal of Smithville Police Department Official Inventory files, inclusive of dates April 20th, 2007- July 29th, 2007.; and removal and personal possession of miscellaneous items depicted on Smithville Police Department Evidence Receipts 3044-3051 to include: (905) rounds of .223 ammunition, (97) shotgun rounds (various calibers), H&K parts, tools and (1) machine gun streamlight laser/flashlight from the Smithville Police Department.

During the internal investigation, Jennings apparently returned the weapons and ammunition, but according to Chief Stufano's statement, "He has yet to bring back any inventory control files from his residence inclusive of the dates April 20th, 2007 to July 28th, 2007 during his tenure as the agency's inventory control Supervisor. As a result of his unauthorized and prohibited actions the city and Police Department have incurred unnecessary expenses in having to contract a certified auditing team to complete an inventory of the department's assets."

Stufano would not address allegations against Jennings of possible state and federal law violations, citing an on-going investigation, the results of which may be presented to the December term of the DeKalb County Grand Jury.

Parrish, who questioned Stufano throughout the hearing Monday night, told WJLE after the meeting that Jennings was authorized to have these items, insisting that he was issued them a few years ago and that the authorization had not been rescinded. "They attacked his integrity, they attacked his honesty. It was always an attempt to discredit him. The board has heard the evidence and voted correctly. To me, the biggest issue was that he always had permission to have these items. As a matter of fact, they issued them to him and at no time did they ever rescind that authorization for him to have them."

In a prepared statement to WJLE, Alderman Sullivan explained her vote to overturn the termination, saying "The evidence was conclusive that Mr. Jennings was certified to operate named equipment. He acted as an armour during his time employed. Weapons assigned to an officer is the responsibility of that officer."

"The policy and procedure manual is inconclusive of job descriptions and proper care of said items and there was no directive to inventory equipment at the time of Stufano's employment. The items were returned and charges of theft were unfounded in accordance to the evidence presented."

Later in the meeting, Faye Fuqua praised Jennings and presented a petition to the Mayor and Aldermen signed by some 200 persons in support of him.

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