2019-02-06 / Front Page

Council upholds decision to terminate police lieutenant

DIANA ROYAL

Though he claims other officers were behind a plan to disrupt the police department, former Waynesboro Police Lt. Theodore Jackson’s appeal to city council following his termination was voted down 4-2 on Monday night after nearly six hours of testimony and cross examination. Council members Dick Byne, Brenda Lewis, Bill Tinley and Willie Williams voted in favor of upholding the decision to fire Jackson while Alberta Anderson and James “Chick” Jones were against it.

In November 2018, Jackson was fired from the WPD after an investigation revealed he’d been organizing a mass resignation of employees. In his termination letter, Chief Augustus Palmer wrote that Jackson’s actions were “designed to adversely affect the morale, operations and/or efficiency of the Police Department.”

However Jackson, who testified following nearly half a dozen other witnesses, says the idea was not his and named both officers Samir Tragala and Harold Drummond as the plotters. Both men testified that Jackson had approached them in September about tendering their resignations, stating that if they quit together, it could help make a change within the department. Both men also said that Jackson had requested they give him their resignations as he was taking up resignations from other officers and would turn them all in together.

Tragala testified that the idea concerned him because he felt that the department would suffer while Drummond admitted to penning his own resignation letter and handing it to Jackson himself. Tragala went on to testify that he was also worried about retaliation since Jackson was his supervisor. Drummond, on the other hand, commented that Jackson was a man of integrity. “I don’t enjoy sitting here in front of him in this position,” he said. “I have respect for him.”

City attorney Chris Dube pointed out that both officers appeared nervous on the stand and were far less forthcoming than they had been when giving their statements previously.

A third witness, former WPD offi- cer Matthew Williamson, also swore under oath that Jackson had approached him about quitting, stating that Jackson said he’d been in contact with the mayor and other officers to make sure the plan worked. In a text message to Williamson, dated Sept. 15, 2018, Jackson wrote, “Just letting you know I’m not pressuring anyone to do this with me. If we gonna get change we have to stand together. If you are for it im (sic) behind you if not I understand.” In response to Williamson’s text that he was uncomfortable writing a resignation, Jackson went on to say, “We just want to force there hand and then we all resend the notice. If we all do it they can’t run the department with 7 people. We have the power in our favor. Its your decision though. I will know tomorrow evening how many are in.”

Another damaging piece of evidence presented by the city was a group text sent by Jackson on Sept. 16 to nearly a dozen officers including Tragala, Drummond, Williamson and then investigator Angela Collins, in which he

“Let me apologize for making yall feel uncomfortable with what I suggested we do to get our message taken serious,” he wrote. “I know we all have bills and children to think about. I hope things get better and thats what im fighting for. Sometimes you have to make a journey alone and thats what im going to do. Thks for your support in prayers. If you gave me paperwork it will be destroyed. One person can make a change for the good of everyone.”

When questioned by Dube as to what paperwork he was referring to in the text, Jackson said, “I don’t know. I guess they said I was their spokesperson.” He then testified that he did not know who he sent the group text to and that he had not formulated any sort of plan. “Did you send those texts?” Dube asked, drawing attention to the parts about forcing their hand and when he’d know how many people “are in.”

“I wrote the words, but I don’t vote on city council,” Jackson said.

Dube also pointed out that Jackson apologized in the group text for what “[he] suggested” they do, and Jackson retorted, “That’s what it says.”

During testimony, Jackson’s attorney, Mike Brown, asked Jackson to describe the complaints he had lodged to city manager Jerry Coalson against Chief Palmer. He stated that he could only recall one in which he said the work environment was hostile and that the only thing he’d ever tried to do within the department was take up for the other officers who weren’t equipped with proper safety measures.

“Did you try to coerce people to quit?” Brown asked, to which Jackson replied, “Tragala and Drummond started this whole thing. [Drummond] said, ‘What if we all resigned?’”

Brown also questioned Jackson about his résumé, inferring that Palmer’s testimony suggested it was less than impressive.

“Well I came to Burke County as a hit man,” he said, explaining further upon request that he had been hired to kill someone back in the eighties. No additional discussion on this took place.

In his testimony, Palmer stated that he had always encouraged Jackson to seek supervisory training and additional certifications, dating back to 2013. He also said that he had offered Jackson the position of major on two separate occasions and that Jackson turned it down both times. Jackson stated during the appeal hearing that he had planned to resign from the department in September.

Council met in executive session for approximately 12 minutes before voting to uphold the initial decision to terminate Jackson.

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