Complaints about police spark special meeting in Chaffee

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

CHAFFEE, Mo. -- A special Chaffee City Council meeting is planned for today after what some are calling a "pretty nasty" meeting Monday.

What started as a routine gathering and simple agenda quickly changed.

"We had an audience full of irate people protesting the overexuberance of the police department. That's the nice way of putting it," said Chaffee Mayor Loretta Mohorc.

At 5 p.m. today, she'll preside over a closed council meeting aimed at getting some answers from police chief Jesse Chisum.

The city hired Chisum in August and shortly after that hired a new dispatcher and two police officers. Chisum tendered his resignation in October, citing communication problems with Chaffee administrators, only to rescind it, after which all three members of the city's police personnel board resigned.

David Ivester, former city police board president, said the meeting "got pretty nasty. I raised some issues about the police, some of their activities around town."

Ivester said even though he no longer works in any capacity for the city, people still bring complaints his way.

He said he spoke at Monday's meeting, concerned that police hadn't properly responded after a fire alarm at the Chaffee nursing home. The police policy manual, which Ivester helped write, requires officers to report to fire scenes for the purposes of directing traffic or otherwise ensuring safety.

He also aired complaints he'd heard from others, of officers making illegal U-turns, using excessive speed without flashing lights or proper signals, and tailing drivers.

Ivester said he saw "several people at the meeting that had talked to me previously about their complaints. I kind of lost my temper when one of the councilmen seemed to take what I was saying as a joke, or at least not seriously," Ivester said.

Ivester said he has not spoken to Chisum since two days before leaving his police board position in October.

Don Kiefer, appointed to the city's police board after Ivester left, was also at the meeting.

"There were some very unhappy people there," he said. "The citizens of Chaffee feel like the stops are overkill."

Kiefer, who owns Kiefer Service Station in Chaffee, said he's gotten an earful from others living in this city of 3,200. He also said one of his own family members experienced problems while trying to shuttle friends across town one night in her new car. The car had a temporary paper license in the window, and she was pulled over for a license plate check.

"After questioning her and asking her what she was doing, she made a couple more trips. They followed her after that," he said. The incident happened months ago and is "not a big deal. It was a new officer and people are getting to know each other."

'Investigative stops'

Kiefer said the biggest complaints are over "what they're calling investigative stops. They're just pulling people over. They are doing a job. They are stopping a lot of traffic violations, as far as headlights and taillights being out."

But Kiefer said drivers are being told police are investigating a robbery or drug activity in the area and suspect the person who has been pulled over. Some of those drivers told him they were pulled over more than once in an evening.

"A lot of times, they're not even getting a citation," Kiefer said. He said "a rash of car break-ins and petty stuff that needs to be stopped" seem to have declined, but "I've been here all my life, almost 49 years, and in business here 27 years. I can't see Chaffee is full of crime. But I'm not out after 10, 11 o'clock at night. I'm not naive, but I don't know that it requires harassment."

Kiefer said he will not be at today's meeting but thinks the city and Chisum need to "get this worked out."

Before the police complaints, the major issue facing the council was what to do with the former Hart-Shaffner & Marx building. The council has decided to sell the building.

Chisum, reached by phone late Tuesday, said Ivester left Monday's meeting before seeing police logs that show two officers were at the nursing home until the fire alarm was deemed a mechanical error with no threat to people.

"The way I look at law enforcement, it's black and white. The law applies to everybody, and that has upset some people in town," he said. Beyond that, he would not comment on allegations by Ivester or Kiefer, saying only that he would not "run down individuals who have taken it upon themselves to discredit me. It's not about me. That has been misconstrued."

When Chaffee City Council meets tonight, he'll be there.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he said.

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