Kenneth Freeman has been the mayor of Many, Louisiana, for 30 years, since 1989. In that time he’s seen a lot of changes, and had a lot to say. For example, in 2006 he did an interview with the Alexandria Town Talk regarding future economic prospects for his city and the northwest Louisiana region as a whole. Among the questions: “What could hurt the future of Sabine Parish?”
“Pessimism,” he said. “Fighting against each other and not coming together for a common goal.”
Thirteen years later, that answer could be deemed prophetic, as Freeman versus Freeman – the mayor versus the police chief – has become the present day wild (north)west duel.
One week ago, on Thursday, June 27, the Many City Council held a noon meeting to discuss a proposal for the fall ballot, asking the voters to decide whether to continue electing their police chief, or to change the position to an appointed one. When the meeting ended, the police chief had the mayor arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to the parish jail.
The mayor led off the discussion of the ballot proposal by giving the council and the standing-room-only assemblage of citizens a review of the complaints that have been raised about Police Chief Roger Freeman. (The two men are unrelated.).
“For a year now, we’ve been hearing complaints from our citizens and officers that the police chief is not there; that he is not providing leadership,” the mayor said. “There’s been a large turnover rate in the city police department to the point that they are constantly understaffed and cannot provide proper patrol or protection. Our citizens say they do not feel safe in their own homes due to recent rises in crime.”
Town residents have been plagued by a rash of burglaries.
“We get these complaints, because everyone thinks we run the police department,” the mayor continued. “We don’t. The elected chief is responsible for management and operations of his department. You all keep saying, ‘Do something. Do something.’ We meet with him and…nothing happens.”
There were a number of “yes sirs” and “that’s rights” from the audience, reminiscent of a congregation engaged with the Sunday sermon.
“For example, the chief has been advised by the council to contact the sheriff and state police to assist with patrolling at night, until the chief can hire competent officers. He has not acted on those recommendations. And a year ago this city council asked me to research what options they have with an elected chief. The only thing that we can do is put it before the people of Many for a vote,” Mayor Freeman explained. “We can vote to dissolve the Many police department and have the sheriff’s department take that law enforcement responsibility. Or, we can put before the people of Many for a vote to change the chief to an appointed position, to where you have some input into the operations of your police department through your elected city council members.”
The crowd murmured, softly reacting to the options being proposed. Council members, on the other hand, sat stoically and silently.
“There appears to be a misunderstanding that we are going to vote today to appoint a new chief. That is not within our realm of responsibility or capability,” the mayor continued. “We do have the option to put this on the fall ballot to give you, the citizens, the opportunity to tell us how you wish to proceed. Do you wish to continue to have an elected chief? Or do you want to have an appointed chief? That’s what we’re here today to decide. Do we put this question on the ballot?”
One council member moved to put the referendum on the ballot. Another seconded it, and the rest of the members were offered the opportunity to discuss it. Silence.
So the mayor said, “All in favor signify by saying aye,” and “Motion passes,” was the unanimous decision.
Audience members wanted to ask questions. Yet the traditional order of business at Many City Council meetings is to allow public comment on agenda items en bloc, prior to the council calling them forward on the agenda. The alloted time for that had already occurred, and so the council adjourned, but stayed around to answer citizen questions informally.
One of the first up to speak was the police chief himself.
“I’m a say what I’m gonna say. I don’t care what he says,” Chief Roger Freeman said, pointing at the mayor. “I’ve been working 20-somethin’ years here in Many. Have helped almost everybody in this room at one time or another. I’ve helped people every day. Now they’re gonna kick me out of office?”
“If the people vote that way, that’s their prerogative,” the mayor responded, with a shrug of his shoulders and a slight shake of his head.
“Yeah, but you come here and talk about me all kinda ways to the public,” Chief Freeman said, pointing angrily at Mayor Freeman. “I love these folks. And y’all didn’t even ask me if I wanted to say something. You just let me set over there in that chair and never say a word. I got news for you!”
“We advised you what would be discussed here today,” the mayor replied, calmly.
A female in the audience shouted, “Can we appoint the mayor, too?” generating nervous laughter from the crowd. “And everyone at the table?”
“Does the police department need help in patrolling the town?” the chief asked, raising his voice, both in his own defense and to be heard above the audience noise. “Sure. Went over to the sheriff the other day, talked to him. He is shorthanded himself, and is NOT putting anybody here in town. But in the last week, we solved that string of burglaries that we had. We picked up two and locked em up, and got two more boys that we picked up today. So you don’t have to worry about your houses or your cars anymore.”
Then, turning again to the mayor and the full council, Chief Freeman put his hands on his hips and said with some venom, “While you’re asking the public, why don’t you ask them if they want to strap on a badge and a gun and protect you for $13 an hour?”
“The public doesn’t want us to raise taxes,” the mayor replied.
The police chief disappeared from view, while the mayor and council engaged in nearly a half hour more discussion with the public. Then, as the participants were heading to the door to leave, the mayor was approached by an officer wearing a tactical vest.
“Turn around, please, sir,” the officer says, as he proceeds to handcuff the mayor. “I have a warrant, signed by Judge Stephen Beasley, for your arrest.”
“For what offense?” the mayor asks.
The officer’s response is to read the mayor his Miranda warning, asking at the end, “Do you understand these rights?”
“I do,” Mayor Freeman replies.
And as he is taken out of the municipal building and bundled into a police vehicle to be whisked away to the parish jail for booking, Assistant Police Chief Dwayne Brumley announces the charges that formed the basis for the mayor’s arrest.
“Speeding eighteen miles over the speed limit; running a stop sign; resisting an officer by flight,” Brumley stated.
Reporters, who had been advised in advance that there would be fireworks, asked, “When did this happen?”
On that date, the mayor was headed to the jail to check on a constituent who’d been arrested for refusing to sign a ticket. Two young Many police officers were tailing the mayor, and at some point lit him up, accompanying him, lights and siren blazing, to the parish jail. When the mayor parked and got out of his car, the officers jumped out and drew their weapons. Moving past them, the mayor went inside.
“Why arrest him now?” reporters wanted to know.
“It’s been under investigation,” the assistant chief replied.
“By police, or the parish sheriff and the district attorney?”
“Uh, by Many Police,” the assistant chief answered.
The charges carried a $1667 bond, which the mayor posted that same day, getting his release. It remains to be seen whether the DA will pursue them, and if prosecuted, whether they’ll hold up to judicial scrutiny.
Meanwhile, the Many fireworks will continue, along with the mayor versus police chief shouting matches that let the voices of the Freemans ring.