Alderwoman, police chief exchange barbs

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Criticism from alderwoman Roxanne Hinton about police procedure during pursuits led to a heated exchange of words between her and Police Chief Melvin Taber during Monday night's meeting of the Sweet Springs Board of Aldermen.

Hinton began the exchange by suggesting the police call off all pursuits until police officers could get more training. She mentioned a recent pursuit which left a Sweet Springs police vehicle damaged.

"I wanted to talk about hot pursuits. Since I've been on council I know of five and only in one case have we ever caught the individual we were pursuing. But two (police) cars were towed away," said Hinton. "I would like to make a motion we stop all hot pursuits until they get training. I think it's only reasonable that you get the proper training."

Hinton's comments got a response from both Chief Taber and Sweet Springs police officer Gary Sherrell - the officer who was driving a police vehicle which was damaged during a chase.

"I would like to voice an opinion that I've already had the training in the academy," said Sherrell.

"This has been brought up in the past and the city voted to adopt the state statute for hot pursuits," added Taber. "This officer did everything he was trained to do."

Hinton then went on to question specific police actions, claiming there were violations of proper police procedure during the chase.

"It says you're not supposed to follow too close and not pursue if he went into opposing traffic," said Hinton. "I know this sounds like I'm trying to build a case against you, but I want to know the answer. I want to know why they didn't call for assistance.

"I want to know why you were following so close, you were following so close you couldn't avoid the accident," she added.

Sherrell then defended his actions during the chase, proving that he did place a call to the Missouri State Highway Patrol early in the pursuit and that he followed police procedure by putting the police car into the ditch rather than hitting the suspect's vehicle and risking injury.

"I am telling you when I came over the hill the man was stopped in the middle of the road and I did what I was trained to do," said Sherrell.

Sherrell also explained that although the suspect's vehicle was noted in the Sweet Springs newspaper to have gone into opposing traffic, it had only gone onto the median, and backed up an on-ramp during the pursuit without entering into opposing lanes.

Hinton also asked if Sherrell was wearing a seat belt during the pursuit and Sherrell admitted he was not. Chief Taber pointed out that the officer's report admitted the seat belt was not worn.

The Sweet Springs Police Department remains short-handed, with no applicants applying for positions on the force. That is a difficult position for the force if officers are to be sent away for training, Taber noted.

"It sounded like you took offense earlier but I think the more training the better," noted Alderman Bill Hall.

"I don't have any problem with the training, but it's the five-day period (without staff)," Taber responded.

"It's been two to three weeks since we ran the ad and no one came up," he added. "Why would somebody want to work for the low pay to work for the department when the department has to go through this every week."

The pursuit questioned by Hinton took place outside city lines which, Taber explained, is part of a common mutual aid agreement.

In January, Hinton made a motion during an executive session of the board to cite Gary Sherrell and Sweet Springs Street Superintendent Seaton Hall in regard to remarks made over the city's radio system. That motion was supported by Alderman Larry Vick and Hinton while Alderman Maurice Cook (who was absent during Monday's meeting) opposed and Hall abstained.

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