Palestine fires controversial police chief

Robert Herbert

PALESTINE — A controversial police chief was officially terminated Tuesday evening.

A vote of four in favor of firing Chief Robert Herbert, while two voted against the measure. The council discussed the action in executive session for an hour and 45 minutes before the vote.

The vote was a final straw after the mayor and three council members voted in a special called meeting last week to recommended City Manager Wendy Ellis terminate Herbert.

After the meeting, he was placed on administrative leave, and the council met again on Monday to make the action formal.

Turmoil started within the city after a survey conducted by the Texas Municipal Police Association showed Herbert received the most negative scores a chief has been given in more than a decade. Department members indicated zero percent had high morale, zero percent wanted to finish out their career in the department under his leadership, and none of the respondents indicated they had confidence in Herbert to lead the department into the future.

Proponents and opponents of the chief took five-minute turns advocating for or against the chief's continued role in the city.

Bernadette Capron, with the Palestine Police Officers Association, said Herbert did excellent things in the community, but he was not an apt leader behind closed doors.

"You did not see, you did not feel and hear what was going on, and a lot of people suffered, and most of it was his leadership style," she said. "I'm not going to demean his character, but his leadership style was the wrong style. He led by fear, and you cannot lead by fear."

She then quoted Shakespeare.

"He who makes others fear his touch has best to fear their memory," she said.

Police officers said morale skyrocketed within the department after a week without Herbert at its helm.

"You have no clue — the weight is lifted off our shoulders …" said Cpl. Brian Linter, adding the department already has started discussing adding community programs and updating bulletproof vests. "Two weeks ago, nine officers, if not more, were ready to leave this city for better pastures. Now you have 24 sworn officers who are here to fight for this community and fight for you."

Kenneth Davidson, local president of the NAACP chapter, said since he spoke out at the initial meeting on June 9 when the survey was released to the council, officers harassed him.

"I saw signs out that said support … the blue," he said. "I wouldn't back this blue if you paid me to. I don't trust this blue. I've been harassed, and you think I want to trust this police force?"

Davidson said he was followed in his car under the pretense of the officer investigating a death in his area, and he said he was followed again when officers suspected his 2013 gold Cadillac matched the description of a white Cadillac involved in a robbery.

"The officer pulled up two or three feet behind my family …" he said. "I had my two grandkids in the backseat of my car. If he had hit me, it would have injured my kids."

Several other community members commented the problem was administrative and included a lack of proper protocols and procedures.

Longtime Palestine resident Frieda Parks said she was concerned the police officers felt they could not express their concerns through the proper channels and thereby circumvented the typical protocol for employee complaints. She said it was a concern for all city employees.

Ms. Parks also addressed a similar survey that was conducted in Forrest Hill, where Herbert previously served as chief. The two surveys mirrored each other is showing employee discontent with his leadership skills.

"This reads to me that apparently the city did not do due diligence of the (chief) that was being hired," she said. "We are in the process of trying to hire a police chief. My request is please do due diligence."

Officer Patsy Smith said in her eight years with the department, she is facing a fifth chief.

"The issue with our department is a lack of leadership, ethics, morals and an abundance of ego and pride …" she said.

She implored the council to be more extensive while selecting the next chief.

"Our agency has policies that are meant to be followed," she said. "These rules are meant to be followed by everyone from the chief to patrol."


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Faith Harper is an East Texas native working for her hometown newspaper. She specializes in digital content for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. In her spare time, she loves tacos, road trips and is currently learning to sail.