The newly appointed police chief in Reeds Spring is the only law enforcer there after the only other officer was fired today for "an ethics violation."
Chris Lackey says he and his wife, Laura, were helping the 20 year-old daughter of a family friend when things began to spiral out of control last week. Lackey says he was home sick on August 16th when he was approached by the young woman. "We've known the family for quite a while. In fact, she and her brother were in my Explorer program at the department," he said. "I took them under my wing after her father, who is a police officer in Florida, contacted me by facebook and asked me to look out for them."
"She had been living with her mother and said that her mother had thrown her out of the house." The woman told the Lackeys that she and her mom had been fighting over her wanting to live on her own in an assisted living facility.
Lackey said after the young woman spoke with his wife they decided to let her stay at their home for a cooling off period.
"That’s when the harassment began," Lackey said. "The mother kept harassing us and called the Stone County Sheriff’s Office telling them things that weren’t true." Things like she still had custody of the girl, but that was soon disproven. Deputies told the woman she could not return to her mother's house because she did not want her there, according to Lackey.
Lackey says he contacted Reeds Spring chief of police Daniel Chesnut, his direct supervisor, and informed him of the situation. "I did that because I did not want any surprises coming up that deputies had come to my house about the situation."
The newly-appointed chief allegedly told him "to get rid of the problem," according to Lackey. He says the chief told him "you've created this problem by harboring this person. He told me to take her to a woman's shelter and get rid of the problem."
"I did as he asked and contacted Harbor House," Lackey said. "They were full and didn’t have room so we took her to Harmony House in Springfield on August 17th." Lackey then informed the chief that they had placed her in a shelter and he allegedly told him "it wasn’t his problem and that the Reeds Spring Police Department wanted the continued harassment by the girl's family members to stop."
Lackey continued to try to find help for the girl, who suffers from bipolar disorder. "I continued to try and get her into Harbor House as she was struggling in the place in Greene County."
Lackey maintains that he had no contact with the girl during this time, but acknowledges that his wife did. "She kept in touch with her. I did what I was asked and didn’t [keep in touch]," he said. Lackey said that as the day of the 18th progressed, it became clear to his wife that the young woman needed to go somewhere else, "so arrangements were made for her to stay at my mother-in-law's house in Christian County."
Lackey and his family were planning a trip to Arkansas and were loading their car when the girl’s brother came by and began verbally harassing them.
Lackey said Chief Chesnut contacted him about 24 hours after the young woman had been at his mother-in-law's house saying he had been contacted by authorities in Christian County who said they had received a call that the young woman was being held against her will. That claim was also quickly disproven, but with the ongoing animosity the mother-in-law made the decision that the woman could no longer stay at her house for fear of retribution.
“He [Chief Chesnut] said your job is in jeopardy and told me to stay out of it," Lackey said. "I told him we had not had any contact with her as we were out of state. He asked how the girl got to my mother-in-laws house and I told him my wife took her. He said, what a coincidence."
"I was then told I need to get my wife under control."
After the Lackeys returned home on August 20th he called the chief to let him know that his wife was going to file a restraining order against the girls' family members. "He said don't let her go over there...we don't need any problems with the sheriff's office."
On August 20th, a Stone County Deputy went to the Lackey’s home and said it was reported that his wife had stolen the girls food stamp card. Laura Lackey told the deputy that the girl had given her the card in front of the shelter in Springfield and she had forgotten she had it in the car. The deputy told her to put it in an envelope and deliver to Reeds Spring City Hall.
Deputy Trent Massey said once it was at city hall he would notify the girls family that it was there to be picked up. "The card was left with the city clerk and not the police department, but Chief Chesnut brought the card back to my house and tried to hand it to me but I told him I wasn't involved in the situation anymore per his instructions."
"Here I am on vacation...on my own time I earned and he begins yelling at my wife. He made her cry and I felt like I needed some guidance from someone other than my chief at that point so I asked for a meeting with the mayor and city council.
"Chief Chesnut told me if I did that it would not work out favorably for me and I will take disciplinary actions against you," said Lackey.
"I immediately contacted Mayor Paul Lear and was offered a slot in a closed session later that night but declined as my legal counsel could not be there."
That set the stage for Lackey’s suspension.
Lackey said he went on duty the night of August 20th and was working with the Explorer program when he was approached by Chief Chesnut and Mayor Lear and informed that he needed to appear at a meeting the following morning at 10 a.m.
At that meeting, former city clerk Bill Bell who was recently appointed to City Administrator, and Chief Chesnut issued a verbal reprimand to Lackey and placed him on suspension.
Their actions, Lackey claims, are not in keeping with the city’s policies or state law.
“I asked about that and the city administrator said they had passed a new ordinance so they could do it,” Lackey said. The city had, however, not provided any such work-related update to any city employee and had no employee sign off on what the administrator said was “new policy.” Bell allegedly told Lackey "now that I've been appointed city administrator we no longer need council approval for these matters."
Lackey was officially placed on three days suspension and then required to take two personal days off after that. After that he was told he would be placed on a 30 day probationary period, which he questioned.
When Lackey went to meet with an attorney in Springfield on August 23rd city leaders went to his house and confiscated his patrol vehicle that contained about $3,000 of his personal belongings. That property included a $2,500 assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition that sat unprotected all weekend in the vehicle which was parked in front of city hall.
That property was returned to Lackey on Monday August 26th when he was officially fired after he refused to resign.
"I told them I know what I did was right and I would not resign." Lackey said city leaders had a sheriff's deputy attend Monday's meeting. " I asked them why they had a deputy there when they knew I wasn't going to hurt them or anyone else....it was ridiculous."
Bell says all city employees in the tiny municipality are "at will employees."
"Officer Lackey violated many of the city's personnel policies as well as the ethical section of the personnel policies," said Bell. "Every employee with the city, including myself, signed a disclaimer at the beginning of their employment that we are at will employees and may be terminated for no reason at all at the will of the board."
"They knew there wasn't going to be a problem with me when they fired me," said Lackey. "But hopefully there will be with general public in the next election."