In a move critics called “unfathomably dumb” and “crazy,” the Springfield mayor and Board of Aldermen have reinstated the police chief who was removed from office by a judge in a criminal case last year.
Jimmy Jones had faced four felonies — including obstruction of justice — for trashing a woman’s drunken driving citation as a favor to a friend of former Mayor Charles Martin, who was also prosecuted and lost his job by court order.
Both men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief and avoided jail time, but their plea bargains demanded they step down. However, the deals did not preclude the two men from serving in the future. Jones, rehired as chief last month, started work again at the town Monday.
Prosecutor David Caldwell of the state Attorney General’s Office said barring a police officer from future work enters into some territory without a lot of legal precedent, and he assumed town leaders would have used “common sense” to keep Jones from reclaiming his old job.
“I just never thought anyone would be dumb enough to hire him back,” Caldwell said. “This is just such an unfathomably dumb idea.
“This is clearly a signal … that they don’t take a serious attitude toward these types of activities.”
If there is ever a whisper that the police force has behaved inappropriately, Jones’ guilty plea would be entered into court as Exhibit A, Caldwell said.
“Having a chief law enforcement officer who has pled guilty to destroying evidence taints the entire department in future criminal investigations and exposes the town to potential future civil liability, should there be future allegations of civil rights violations,” the prosecutor wrote in an email to The Advocate.
He believes the town timed Jones’ rehiring to coincide with a change in administration at the Attorney General’s Office, which took on the case when the local District Attorney’s Office recused itself. Caldwell said the incoming team will have to evaluate whether it wants to pursue the case further.
However, rehiring Jones was not itself a violation of his sentence, said Town Attorney Brian Abels.
“The community wanted him back,” Abels said. “The situation fit for everybody. … I really don’t see it as an issue moving forward.”
Jones was selected by the mayor and approved by the Board of Aldermen in a Dec. 30 special meeting, Abels said.
Unlike the regular town meeting 10 days earlier, the special meeting was not advertised on the town’s website. Regular meetings must be scheduled and announced in the board’s newspaper of record, but for special meetings, authorities only have to post the agenda at their office or meeting place 24 hours ahead of time.
Before Jones was reinstalled, the board hired Steve Meyers to fill in as interim chief. Meyers, a former Harahan police officer and current Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s reservist, said it was clear from the start that his posting was temporary.
“Everything was set up so that (Jones) would be coming back,” Meyers said. “I didn’t think the town would be that crazy.”
He said he resigned in October because town leaders wouldn’t let him run the department. As chief, he tried to hire new officers, but “all my suggestions were shot down. … I could never get anywhere.”
He isn’t sure how the department will function in the future.
“(Rehiring Jones) is definitely not a good idea,” Meyers said. “It’s a really screwed-up situation.”
Meyers said the people in Springfield, a small town in Livingston Parish, “have their own little clique.”
“That town does not want to move forward with anything,” he said. “They like their own little system and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
At present, Jones is the only full-time officer patrolling Springfield, Abels said. The attorney said Wednesday the town has a few reserve officers, but he does not believe anyone else is on the department’s payroll — possibly a part-timer or two.
Neither Jones nor acting mayor Tommy Abels, the attorney’s cousin, responded to phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Caldwell, the prosecutor, said Springfield leaders have embarrassed the entire state.
“It also sends a very poor message to the rest of the country about how business is done in Louisiana,” he wrote.
The town is stuck in the past, Caldwell said.
“It’s a little bit sad.”
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.