A Decatur police officer who resigned last week rather than appealing his termination became the third officer in four months permanently removed from the department. Additionally, two other officers have been reprimanded for unprofessional conduct and a sixth officer transferred after admitting stealing from the evidence room during Nate Allen's three-plus years as Decatur police chief.
None of those six officers have been convicted of a crime, but Allen said he doesn't condone officer misconduct and took action because he holds them to a "higher standard."
“I require officers to do the right thing on and off duty all the time,” said Allen, who said he can’t comment on personnel issues. “That’s a hard task. Officers are human. They’re going to make mistakes. We’re all going to make mistakes. We don’t want their mistakes to be detrimental (to our department).”
Sworn in as police chief May 23, 2016, Allen said he keeps a keen eye on enforcing policies affecting the 141 sworn officers in his department.
“We like the policies we have in place and we’re held accountable to them,” Allen said about the staff issues.
“Our officers have to remember the decisions they make off duty also affect the decisions they make on duty,” he said. “For example, I don’t want the officer to be charged with a crime and then put somebody in jail for the same crime they may have been charged with. That creates a dilemma there.
"We are held to a higher standard than most citizens anywhere in the country. Not only do we have to enforce the laws, we have to abide by the laws, too.”
Police Lt. Archie Hoyt Letson submitted a resignation letter last week, the day before a hearing on his appeal of his Aug. 23 termination. Richelle Sandlin, personnel board director, said Letson was dismissed from the police force “on an internal performance issue.”
He faces a misdemeanor third-degree assault charge in Lawrence County Circuit Court stemming from an alleged April 6, 2018, incident involving a 16-year-old in the weight room at East Lawrence High School, where Letson was serving as a volunteer coach, according to the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office and court records.
His attorney, Robert Tuten of Huntsville, has asked for a jury trial. “He has pled not guilty, and we think the citizens of Lawrence County should hear the facts and decide for themselves,” Tuten said Thursday afternoon.
Tuten said Letson stipulated, or agreed, to probable cause in Lawrence County District Court. “The district court doesn’t have jurisdiction for a jury trial,” he said. “The stipulation gives the district court judge the authority to send the case to circuit court with a jury. It’s not a guilty conviction appealed to circuit court."
In January, Mayor Tab Bowling made the decision to terminate police officer Brandi Leigh Reed’s employment. In July, the city’s personnel board voted 4-0 to uphold the mayor’s decision, saying Reed did not live up to “higher standards” as a police officer.
In May 2018, Reed and decorated officer Zachary Charles Blanton were accused of having an affair by Blanton’s sister-in-law Hailey LaMar of Hartselle. LaMar claimed the two officers assaulted her when she found them together in Blanton’s house while his wife was away. Hartselle Municipal Judge Michael Broom acquitted Reed and Blanton of the assault charge.
The personnel board cited four other incidents involving Reed as reasons for its decision, including driving 100 mph in a police vehicle without her warning lights on.
In January, Reed joined the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy.
Blanton resigned in June under an agreement that he wouldn’t challenge the city’s effort to terminate him. In 2014, Blanton was honored for his heroics of saving a boy, 8, and a puppy from a house fire in 2013.
In January 2018, Decatur police officer Jonathan Lowery was transferred out of the Police Department to become a city code enforcement officer after he admitted to taking a ring from the police evidence room. He said he traded the ring for ammunition at a pawn shop. The incident allegedly occurred in December 2013.
Allen had told the personnel director he could not keep Lowery on as a police officer.
Expletive caught on video
Another Decatur police officer heard using an expletive on social media video "demonstrated an unprofessional demeanor" during a May 24 call involving a gun.
A video of the incident on social media the following day went viral with hundreds of thousands of views worldwide. A Decatur police officer is heard saying "(expletive) you" to one of the two detainees at the scene.
The video does not show if the officer was provoked.
It was determined the two men were filming a music video during which one of the men held a gun to the other man’s head. Police said there was no criminal intent or malice. Also, the man with the gun, who identified himself as Dizzy Dez, CEO of Wave Rydaz Entertainment of Decatur, had a valid permit to carry the firearm.
Allen said the officer was given sensitivity training and reprimanded for his action. Allen would not say if any other disciplinary action was taken against the officer.
Two years earlier, an internal affairs investigation into comments made by then-Decatur police Lt. Proncey Robertson closed with the officer receiving sensitivity awareness counseling as a result, Allen said at the time.
The investigation showed that on social media Robertson referred to President Barack Obama as a Muslim and then President-elect Donald Trump as “one little klansman.”
Robertson has since retired from the department and was elected state District 7 House representative in November. He was the Lawrence County Republican Party chairman at the time of the investigation.
Allen said he’s aware the incidents resulting in police discipline generate negative comments toward his department on social media. He said critics are welcome to post whatever they wish.
“Social media people are able to voice their opinions. They are opinions,” he said. “We try to do a good job being a community supporter. We’ve adopted two schools, Walter Jackson and West Decatur. Our officers go about once a week to read and meet with the kids.”