Downtown Memphis showed the greatest drop in violent crime in the city this year to date compared with 2010. Yet that didn't stop new Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong from forcing South Main Station's top cop to retire.
On May 10th, 26-year MPD veteran Robert Shemwell, the colonel who has led South Main Station since May 2009, was told that he was terminated immediately, despite the fact that the South Main Station showed a 17 percent drop in violent crime this year compared with last year. On the same day, another 26-year veteran and award-winning officer, Colonel Jeff Clark of Tillman Station, also was asked to resign.
Shemwell and Clark have turned to Memphis Police Association attorney Deborah Godwin (no relation to former police director Larry Godwin) for help getting rehired.
Shortly after the colonels' forced retirement, secretly taped recordings were released in which Armstrong said former director Godwin had created "monsters" within the ranks. In a press conference on Monday, Armstrong said he was referring to officers who had direct access to the former director.
Attorney Deborah Godwin called the forced retirement of the colonels "a little overly harsh."
"They certainly didn't do anything disloyal," Godwin said. "They're career police, and this is a real detriment to the department because they're losing a lot of knowledge. These are guys who put their heart and souls into it."
Tillman Station did show a 3 percent increase in crime from January to May of this year compared with the same time last year, but in January, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission praised Tillman for having one of the greatest crime decreases since 2006. Clark was hired as colonel there in December 2008.
The rank of colonel is an appointed position created by former director Godwin in 2007. Appointed positions do not fall under civil service protection, but the former officers are hoping to be reinstated to the highest civil service rank of lieutenant colonel.
On May 26th, Deborah Godwin wrote a letter to city human resources director Quinton Robinson calling Armstrong's actions "unlawful." Godwin wrote: "As there was no cause to terminate these dedicated officers, and they were given no due process, we must respectfully demand that they be reinstated to employment immediately."
Armstrong wasn't available for comment, but Mary Cashiola, a spokesperson with Mayor A C Wharton's office, said last week that the city has no plans to rehire the former colonels at this time.
"With appointed positions, you become an at-will employee, and you serve at the will and pleasure of the mayor," Cashiola said. "You can be removed from your job at any time for any reason, so long as it's not discriminatory."
The departures of Shemwell and Clark came alongside plenty of other department shakeups by the new police director. Armstrong announced Monday that he's looking into hiring a Washington-based consulting firm to assess the department.
He's also been reorganizing employees. Former director Godwin's son Anthony was moved from the Organized Crime Unit (OCU) to the night shift at Union Station, and several other OCU officers were shifted to various stations. The city, assisted by the FBI, is currently investigating law enforcement practices at the OCU.
Deborah Godwin wouldn't say if the colonels' next step would be a lawsuit, saying only, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." In the meantime, Cashiola said the two ex-cops do have one option for rejoining the department.
Said Cashiola: "If they wanted to reapply to work for the MPD, they certainly could."