Residents and city officials in a small town in South Carolina are questioning the motives of a newly elected mayor who fired a veteran police chief after 20 years of service.
Crystal Moore, a 20-year veteran with the Latta Police Department, was relieved of her duties as chief of police on Tuesday following seven reprimands handed down by Mayor Earl Bullard.
The reprimands appear to stem from an investigation Moore launched into the use of a city vehicle by the town’s parks and recreations director, Vontray Sellers. According to a February news report by local television station WBTW, Sellers was caught operating the vehicle while his license was suspended.
Moore found Bullard failed to conduct a proper background check when he hired Sellers. In an apparent retaliatory move, Bullard imposed seven reprimands against Moore, including — among other things — conducting a background check without authorization, questioning the authority of a supervisor and “contacting news media to help bring about disorder and disruption to the town of Latta.”
On Tuesday, Bullard dismissed Moore — the town’s first female chief of police — after two decades on the force. Some city council members are questioning Bullard’s decision to fire Moore, saying the mayor didn’t follow proper disciplinary protocol.
“We have codes, but this mayor refuses to obey anything in that book he don’t want to,” Latta city councilwoman Lutherine Williams told WBTW reporter Matt Petrillo.
Williams says proper protocol would have been for the mayor to give Moore a verbal warning first, then a written warning. Instead, he chose to give her seven reprimands in a single day. Those reprimands were the first disciplinary measures against Moore in her 20 years on the job.
Yet others believe that the reprimands had nothing to do with Moore’s actions while on duty. Instead, some believe the mayor singled out Moore because she is openly gay.
“Before he was sworn in [as mayor], he said … Crystal would not have a job,” Williams told WBTW.
Another council member, Jared Taylor, provided the TV station with a recording of a phone call in which the mayor makes several anti-gay remarks.
“I would much rather have — and I will say this to anybody’s face — somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children,” Bullard said on the phone call. “I’m not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it, and I’m not going to see them do it with two men neither.”
Moore’s sexuality is of little importance to many residents in Latta, dozens of whom rallied at City Hall on Wednesday in support of the terminated police chief. City officials are also standing by Moore; city council members refuse to acknowledge her termination, saying that the mayor can only fire a police chief with prior approval from the city council.
The city council is expected to hold a meeting on Moore’s dismissal Thursday evening. The meeting will follow another rally in support of Moore on Main Street.
Matthew Keys is a California-based independent journalist who covers global current events for TheBlot Magazine with a focus on policy, tech and security. He previously worked at Thomson Reuters in New York City. He can be reached by phone, e-mail and on social media here.