FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg's Assistant Chief of Police said in a testimony Thursday that a letter he signed recommending the outgoing chief to be reinstated was not written by him.
Hattiesburg Police Department Asst. Chief Frank Misenhelter said he did not know who wrote the letter, which was delivered to him during a lunch workout by outgoing Chief Frazier Bolton. The letter, which was delivered to the mayor and city council three days before the mayor returned to court over this nomination, stated that Chief Bolton is the leader HPD "needs and desires."
"With Chief Bolton as our chief, the City of Hattiesburg has had a major decrease in crime, increased salaries for our officers, national accreditation, as well as enhancements and improvements to our policies, procedures, technology and equipment, etc.," the letter said.
When asked if he felt threatened to write the letter, Misenhelter hesitated, then said it was his duty to support the chief and the mayor's nominee.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree was in court Thursday to face a civil contempt of court ruling for not nominating qualified candidates in a timely manner for director-level positions. That is when Misenhelter testified.
The chief of police position is the only one of 17 left unfilled, 21 months after the mayor was elected. The mayor has nominated three people for the spot, but all of them have been rejected by the council.
Misenhelter said he was considered by the mayor for the position, but he withdrew his name after the mayor said Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado would reject his nomination. Misenhelter said he was told that Delgado said if he were nominated, "Hattiesburg would turn into another Ferguson."
Misenhelter continued his testimony, saying he was told there would also be some opposition from Ward 5 Councilman Henry Naylor and that Delgado called a meeting the following day in the mayor's conference room with some of her constituents to discuss Misenhelter's "beating people and said that it was not going to be pretty."
Delgado issued a statement late Thursday night that said Misenhelter's testimony regarding her comments "is absolutely false."
"I never said that to the Mayor," the release stated. "While Hattiesburg has historically had issues when it comes to police and community relations, we are far from those times due primarily to the new police leadership and a new and positive culture ushered in by former Chief David Wynn and Chief Frazier Bolton."
Delgado continued to say she would not support Misenhelter as a nomination for chief after "many of my constituents expressed tremendous concerns about his possible appointment."
Special appointed Judge Breland Hilburn gave DuPree a July 10 deadline to present and get approved a qualified police chief nominee. If he does not comply, DuPree must pay $150 per day until a nominee is approved.