Council seeks answers in alleged HFD package theft punishment

Council seeks answers in alleged HFD package theft punishment

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg City Council members said Monday they've received lots of questions about the recently reprimanded members of the Hattiesburg Fire Department accused of stealing packages from a burning UPS truck in September.

"I need information," Hattiesburg City Council Vice President Mary Dryden. "I'm thinking that everyone on the council does because I know I'm not the only person who's getting questions."

Dryden said she brought up the issue after receiving an email from a resident with a number of concerns about the situation. Dryden also asked Fire Chief Paul Presley for an explanation she could give to residents about the members' continued employment since council doesn't hire, fire or direct city employees.

"'What is going on with the fire department employees that supposedly stole the UPS boxes?'" Dryden read aloud from the letter. "'Why were they not charged with a crime? Most businesses will fire employees for stealing. What if I had a fire at my house? Will they steal items while they are here fighting the fire?' These questions come to each of us, and I feel like I need to know how to answer this because I have no information at all about how that situation was handled and it's been so public."

Presley said the pre-action committee he created to investigate the incident decided on the punishment for the five members involved, and he implemented its recommendation of demotion and year-long probation largely because UPS didn't take legal action.

"UPS basically didn't press any charges," Presley said. "After the pre-action committee investigated it, they came up with the decision themselves - I didn't - because there was other circumstances involved, to demote and not fire."

Two officers were demoted from captain to lieutenant and another from lieutenant to engineer. The other two members of the department were also demoted, reprimanded and will work one shift without pay.

The department isn't releasing the names of those involved.

All five also received a year-long probation. If they violate terms of that probation, they will be fired.