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City responds to criticism over chief’s death

City officials defended the city’s response to the family of a former city police chief who died recently after being told it was inadequate during last week’s City Council meeting.

Jimmy Wilson, 73, who served as the police chief in Suffolk from 1997 until 2002, died May 30 in Durham, N.C. A biography of Wilson on the department’s website notes that the department expanded community service activities, began the first citizens’ academy and increased bicycle patrol under his leadership.

The Rev. Carlton R. Upton Sr., speaking at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, said the city should have been more sensitive to the family and should have sent them a proclamation for Wilson’s celebration of life. He said he had spoken to Wilson’s daughter and brother, and, according to Upton, they had not received anything from the city.

“I was told that we don’t send proclamations to every city official person who passed,” Upton said. “I understand that. … But when you have someone who has represented the city for five years as a chief law enforcement person, I believe that this city owes it to the family.”

His daughter, Sharen Wilson McGlothen, did not return calls seeking comment but told the Suffolk News-Herald previously that her father was more than just his resumé.

“He coached basketball at the YMCA, he ran the 5Ks, he played baseball, he enjoyed fishing and boating,” Wilson’s daughter said. “He was a loving family man, a dedicated church member and a loyal friend, and he mentored young men and young women.”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson took exception to Upton’s comments and said that she, too, had spoken with Wilson’s daughter. City Manager Patrick Roberts, she said, was in the room with her at the time she spoke with Wilson’s daughter, and the mayor said she received “very nice comments” about what the city had done for Wilson’s family.

“If there is something further that the family would like to have, I will be more than happy to talk with the family again,” Johnson said. “But to say that this is anything short of the city or I not respecting Chief Wilson or his family, I take great offense at that, because I do respect Chief Wilson and the family, and I think we all do, and this entire city did.”

Councilman Lue Ward said he wasn’t immediately aware of Wilson’s death, but offered praise of him and wished the city had recognized his death earlier.

“For whatever reason — I don’t want to say we dropped the ball — for whatever reason, we didn’t acknowledge this a little earlier,” Ward said. “I think we’ve got to do a little better than that.”

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett asked Roberts to put together a timeline of the city’s response to Wilson’s death.

“I think we really need to go over a list of things that actually took place about Chief Wilson’s funeral,” Bennett said, “so that everybody will know exactly what was offered, what was said and what was done. And then we’ll just close the chapter out with that.”

Roberts said he spoke with current Police Chief Thomas Bennett within a day of Wilson’s death, and that the current police chief had sent a personal note to Wilson’s family.

Roberts said, as is customary, the city offered to dispatch the Police Department Honor Guard and offered to send a police escort to Durham to work with police authorities there, and also offered for the city to take part in the funeral and make remarks.

“This is the way we treat folks we work with,” Roberts said. “Our former co-workers are important to us. And so, the family chose to take up the funeral proceedings the way that they thought was appropriate for the family, and they very respectfully declined a number of these things that we did offer.”

Roberts said Maj. Alfred Chandler, who joined the Suffolk Police Department in 1999, represented the city at the funeral, and police command staff in dress uniform were at the funeral. He also said that a message was sent to City Council the day after Wilson died informing them of that. An update to that message was sent to council members June 3 with details of the funeral in North Carolina, Roberts said.

Roberts remarked that it’s possible that the council didn’t immediately notice the May 31 message, with attention being focused on the mass shooting in Virginia Beach that took place that day.

“Nevertheless, the city did what the city always does in these instances,” Roberts said. “And that’s my observation.”