Detective keeps his assignment

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More training for Police Department employees and no transfer of a detective to the patrol division are key elements of a recommendation from Lewisburg's Police Advisory Board last week.

It's in response to Detective Santiago Mcklean's grievance heard March 5 when he emphasized he felt discrimination as a result of a memo from Detective Sgt. Jimmy Oliver to Chief Chuck Forbis alleging Mcklean has a language barrier.

Oliver had expressed concerns to the chief who suggested they be put in writing. Board member Robin Minor, the City Council's liaison to the board who's a county teacher, criticized Oliver's memo, alleging more than two dozen writing errors.

"Forbis should continue his efforts concerning the improvement of report writing skills of department members," according to the recommendation that Forbis said he would follow.

Mcklean isn't being transferred to the patrol division, but because performance reviews of all department employees are mandated, the door remains open for that previously planned reassignment.

In the recommendation as drafted by the Rev. Steve Thomas, one of five voting members of the Board, it was acknowledged that Forbis planned to transfer Mcklean so he could get "the experience and skills that he has lacked since being hired as a detective in 2007" after only a few months of patrolling alone for the La Vergne Police department.

Thomas' proposed recommendation was altered during discussion at the Board's meeting last Thursday night. The word "remedial" was removed and the "period of six months" for Forbis' evaluation of Mcklean was reworded as "not less than six months."

Forbis was encouraged to explore supervisory training for police supervisors on topics including discipline, performance management and supervisory skills.

But the root of the recommendation was that Mcklean "should remain assigned to the detective unit," and Forbis' position was affirmed; What ever is done with regard to Mcklean, is not disciplinary or punitive.

Mcklean's allegation of discrimination included questions about why he'd not received training, as had another detective, and why the planned reassignment followed a meeting with the chief, Oliver and Lt. Rebekah Mitchell on Feb 9. Oliver's memo, dated Feb. 4, about Mcklean wasn't mentioned during that meeting, but Mcklean obtained a copy within an unstated time after the meting.

"If I have not performed properly, why wasn't I told a year and a half ago?" the detective asked.

Mcklean said he understood Forbis' concern about a lack of patrol experience, but he didn't know about the letter until after the Feb. 9 meeting.

"I'm attacking that letter, not the chief," said Mcklean, a naturalized citizen who emigrated from Panama.

"If I start speaking Spanish with you," he said, "you would have a language barrier.

"That letter attacked my culture and says there is a language barrier. That is false," Mcklean said. "I am an asset to the department," he said, indicating his ability to interpret between English- and Spanish-speaking people.

Had Mcklean not found Oliver's memo, he'd not have complained and would be on patrol in uniform the week of his grievance hearing on March 5, the detective said.

Minor sided with Mcklean's request to remain in the detective division, but he also wanted City Manager Eddie Fuller and another member of the City Council to develop a program to deal with issues raised by Mcklean.

They go to the creation of the Police Advisory Board, including consultation on new hires and other personnel changes such as promotion and demotion. Forbis insists transfers to patrol from the detective division are not demotions, nor is transfer of a uniformed officer to the detective division a promotion.

Minor pressed on Mcklean's "right to see that letter," and that led to the following exchange between Forbis and Mcklean:

"The contents of the letter was what was discussed with him on Feb. 9," Forbis said. "It was in his file after the Feb. 9 meeting."

"Why didn't you come to me?" Mcklean asked.

"I did on the 9th."

"I didn't see the letter that day," Mcklean said. "I would have said something at that time."

Forbis replied that supervisors report up the chain of command, not down.

During discussion at last Thursday's meeting, Mcklean told Thomas he'd not had a formal review of his work. The detective also said he'd received compliments about his work and that he was "hurt" by the letter.

Thomas also reported he'd reviewed other reports by Oliver and found "They were better than what we got;" meaning the Feb. 5 memo.

Oliver has been asked if he would comment. He referred questions to Forbis. Oliver attended the March 5 and 12 Board meetings and didn't participate in discussion.

Board Chairwoman Lina Horner said, "I want to do the right thing. We need to settle this, put more training in place and the chief has other training planned. I take the chief at his word; there will be no retribution.

"What we all want," Horner said, "is the best trained police in the state. Unless we have that, we won't have the protection we want."

Mcklean called the Board's decision "good" and "fair." He's "very satisfied" but has some reservations he declined to discuss. Mcklean has already attended interview and interrogation classes in the Reid Technique of Behavioral Analysis, training he called "the best in the state."

While Mcklean's performance is to be reviewed because of the circumstances revealed by the hearing, Horner said, all department employees' performance will be reviewed.

The Board had planned to meet on Monday afternoon this week, but that session was rescheduled for next Monday at 4 p.m. in City Hall.