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January 15, 2013

Eustace axes chief in close vote

Tucker requested usually-closed deliberations to happen in public view

EUSTACE — The Eustace City Council voted 3-2 to fire Eustace Police Chief Troy Tucker during a special-called session Monday.

“I am just speechless,” Tucker said after the meeting.

Tucker, who had been the city’s police chief for a year and four months, publicly pleaded his case to keep his job. The council had planned to discuss Tucker’s fate out of the public eye — as is permitted by state law — but instead held the discussion in open session at Tucker’s request. About 40 community members attended the meeting.

Councilmembers Marlin Chambers, Robert Pickle and Chuck Powers voted in favor of terminating Tucker. Councilmembers Chris Wood and H.A. Grave voted against termination.

Mayor Elicia Sanders said the police department still has three full-time members and several reserve officers. Sgt. Wayne Nutt Jr. will continue to handle the duties of chief, as he did while Tucker was on paid administrative leave.

She said the department will “take a breather” before beginning the search for its next chief.

“I feel sick,” said Sanders, who noted during the meeting that, though she didn’t have a vote, she agreed with the action to fire Tucker. “I am so glad this is over.”

During the meeting, Sanders read a number of complaints that had been leveled against Tucker. Included in those were allegations that:

• Tucker had an altercation with a suspect which occurred after he asked another officer to remove handcuffs off the suspect;

• Tucker spoke badly about and to a Eustace citizen;

• he ordered an officer to turn off his microphone during questioning of a suspect; and

• asked an officer on desk duty and on medical duty to return to work despite having no medical clearance.

While Tucker denied he ever told an officer to stop recording an interview of a suspect, he added, “I have made mistakes. I could have used better judgement.”

Sanders said the council had a range of options including taking no action, issuing a verbal or written warning or suspending or demoting Tucker. Ultimately, the council narrowly agreed a complete change was needed.

“The department is damaged with the current personnel,” Sanders said. “We have to make a decision to lose one officer or lose two. I think it’s best for us to part ways.”

Councilmembers were split on the decision, as were the community members in attendance. Powers noted the entire department had to be considered, saying, “There is no way there won’t be fallout. It’s a no-win situation.”

Said Wood: “I could give you 50 people who want (Tucker) to stay. The law breakers don’t want you here. ... This is not enjoyable. I wish I was home watching football.”

Community member Robert Farmer, who signed up to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting, said he was frustrated with Tucker and the department for not helping resolve a matter he felt should have been handled by police.

Eustace resident Dustin Shelton offered comments on the other end of the spectrum, saying, “His leadership is the best the city has ever had.”

Attorney Richard Carter, who attended the meeting with Tucker, said he thought the council made several mistakes during the meeting and that he and his client would have to determine their next step.

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