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 Town Council Drives Off Police Chief

July 4, 2007 - Just over a month after the town council terminated the employment of his senior patrol officer without his recommendation, Chief of Police Earl Patterson has decided the time was also right for him to leave the Knightstown Police Department.

News of Patterson's departure, which took effect Monday, was announced during a special meeting of the Knightstown Town council last Wednesday. While the council voted unanimously to accept Patterson's resignation, it took no action to replace him or to appoint an interim chief.

Council members would not provide The Banner with a copy of Patterson's resignation letter when asked for one immediately after last week's meeting, and would not even allow The Banner's editor to read it. The council's attorney, Joel Harvey, said he needed to consult the state's public records laws to see if the letter could be released. After getting Harvey's OK, Council President David Glenn faxed a copy of Patterson's letter to The Banner the next day.

In the letter, Patterson indicated his initial plan had merely been to step down as KPD's chief, and to return to the position of patrolman. However, he said that events that transpired at the council's regular monthly meeting on June 20 convinced him that it would be in his best interest to leave the department. According to Patterson's letter, he had advised council member Steve Nelson, one of the council's two police commissioners, on June 20 of his plans to return to being a patrolman. He said Nelson phoned him at home later that afternoon and asked him not to turn in a written statement about his decision until the following day and requested that he remain chief until at least June 24.

During the council meeting that evening, Nelson said he and his fellow police commissioner, Council Vice President Nate Hamilton, were investigating a matter involving the KPD that had been brought to his attention earlier that day. When pressed by council member Cort Swincher for more information, Nelson would provide no details.

"That's a matter Nate and I will investigate," Nelson told Swincher. He also said he didn't feel "at this time that it should be brought out."

When Swincher asked Patterson whether anything had transpired earlier that day, Patterson said he had reported something to Nelson earlier that day that affected the KPD. Nelson promptly urged Patterson to say no more.

"Let it go, Earl," Nelson said. "We'll take it up."

Patterson said in his letter of resignation that he was troubled by Nelson not wanting him to say anything about his decision to step down as chief.

"I felt offended when I was told not to answer questions concerning my decision to step down as chief," Patterson wrote. "I also felt offended when Mr. Nelson stated that my decision was being investigated. I had nothing to hide at the meeting and left feeling belittled. …"

Speaking to The Banner on Monday, Patterson, who is returning to his old job with the Shirley Police Dept., said Nelson's actions during the June 20 meeting made him rethink whether he really wanted to stay with the KPD.

"It's ridiculous," Patterson said. "My intention had been just to step back down to patrolman. But once I saw how (Nelson) handled that … that was the final nail in the coffin." Patterson also said he felt that certain council members were too prone to trying to micromanage the department instead of letting him, the chief, do his job.

"I'm what - the sixth chief in seven years, or something like that?" Patterson said. "There seems to be a pattern. It seems kind of odd that they would go through that many people in that many years. … I don't need to work in an environment like that."

Nelson, the council member Patterson credited most for prompting his decision to leave the KPD altogether, did not attend the June 27 meeting where his resignation was announced and accepted. Clerk-Treasurer Judy Haines said Nelson had opted instead to attend a meeting of the town-township fire board on which he sits.

Although they both voted to accept Patterson's resignation, Swincher and council member Valerie Trump both said they were not happy he was leaving.

"I'm sorry to see Earl go," said Trump. "He did a good job."

Swincher said Patterson had been a good chief and helped restore credibility to the department and improve its standing with other area law enforcement agencies. He also said he understood Patterson's frustrations with the interference of some council members with the police department.

“I just think we ought to let the people we hire do the jobs they were hired to do,” said Swincher.


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