Small Town Shaken By Allegations Against Fired Police Chief
HOMINY, Okla. (AP) _ During the past week, the black police chief who faces a paternity suit by a white employee was fired, and two officers and a judge resigned, but officials say the worst may be yet to come.
This once-quiet rural northeast Oklahoma town’s City Council is seeking a grand jury investigation into months of claims of misconduct by ex-Police Chief Charles Crawford and counterclaims of racial bias.
″I’m sure that this thing is not over yet,″ said Mayor Steve Tilley, whose town of 3,000 residents includes about 150 blacks. ″It may drag on for years.″
Crawford, who has been married 11 years, said city officials who opposed having a black chief conspired to oust him, using allegations that he had affairs with white police dispatchers to raise the ire of the City Council.
″The only difference in these days and the old days is that people don’t use ropes anymore,″ said Crawford, referring to lynchings in the old South. ″They use a lot of trickery and politics to keep you exactly where they want you.″
No criminal charges have been filed against Crawford, who was police chief for nine years, but allegations in testimony to city investigators included sexual involvement with dispatchers, sexual harassment of other female employees, preferential treatment for some residents and harsh handling of others.
City Manager Paul O’Keefe, who serves at the council’s discretion, fired Crawford last Thursday, saying only that he did it ″for the good of the service.″ O’Keefe is out of town and unavailable for comment until Friday, officials said.
A day after Crawford’s firing, police Lt. Dave Pillars and Officer Randy Walling were forced to resign, leaving a police force of two. Tilley said the resignations were accepted because ″they went along with what their chief said and did.″
Both officers said they were shocked when asked to resign. ″If someone had told me six years ago my career was going to end like this, I wouldn’t believe them,″ Pillars said.
On Monday, Municipal Judge Bill Hall resigned after acknowledging he had signed blank warrants later used by police in arrests. Blank warrants were found during the council’s investigation of Crawford.
Hall denied wrongdoing, saying the Crawford controversy that led to his resignation was the result of ″a gross misunderstanding of certain facts.″
Osage County District Attorney Larry Stuart is reviewing the council’s 350- page investigative report and said state investigators may be called in if necessary.
The council requested that a grand jury review its report, but Tilley said he does not believe a panel will be called. District Judge J.R. Pearman said he does not expect to rule on the grand jury request before next month.
Crawford, 45, has denied all the allegations, saying disgruntled fired employees, unidentified accusers and jealous women are making the charges.
Tilley denies anyone on the five-member council, all white, conspired against Crawford because he is black, but said at least two council members who initially called for the investigation and his resignation have not hidden their dislike for Crawford.
Tilley said testimony presented to city investigators accusing Crawford of sexual relationships with four unidentified juvenile women led to his firing. But the claims, which came in interviews with city investigators, were supported by little evidence, he said.
″It’s kind of like why have your house fireproofed if you’ve never had a fire,″ Tilley said. ″When your dealing with the public, with a man in his position, you have to take every precaution.″
Crawford said city officials have refused to identify his juvenile accusers so that he can disprove their claims.
Crawford, who grew up in Hominy along with 18 brothers and sisters, was suspended with pay Sept. 6, two weeks after former dispatcher Becky Rulo, 27, contacted a Tulsa newspaper and councilman Foster Johnson with claims that she is carrying Crawford’s baby. She filed her paternity lawsuit against Crawford on Monday, saying she is four months pregnant.
Two taped telephone conversations between Crawford and Miss Rulo prompted the council’s call Sept. 8 for an investigation of the department, Tilley said. Crawford, who has two children and has served as a foster parent for 10 years to dozens of children, said he will take a blood test to prove he is not the father of Miss Rulo’s child.