Police chief supports expanded reasons for decertifying officers
Published 7:12 pm Friday, April 1, 2022
Suffolk Police Chief Al Chandler supports the expanded reasons for decertifying a police officer, but said the department’s internal processes weed out officers before a situation gets to that point.
“The expansion of DCJS, which I highly agree with,” Chandler said in a recent interview with the Suffolk News-Herald, “causes the Department of Criminal Justice Services to decertify people who commit these acts so they cannot get a job anywhere else.”
Four Suffolk Police officers were decertified in 2020.
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Two officers — Christopher Bryant and Nicholas Thompson — were decertified in August 2020, Bryant following a conviction in Suffolk General District Court and Thompson following a conviction in Suffolk Circuit Court.
Two others — Amber Stahr and Aaron Smith — were decertified on Dec. 16, 2020.
Stahr was decertified under a new law allowing the decertification of officers for lying and excessive force. Smith was decertified under a new law extending the decertification to those who make untruthful statements during an internal affairs investigation. Smith had been promoted to sergeant in 2019.
Smith, according to his LinkedIn profile, is now a patrol deputy with the Gates County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina in September 2021. According to that profile, he had worked with Suffolk Police from February 2013 through September 2021, the last three years as a police sergeant, when he began working in Gates County.
The Criminal Justice Services Board is required by law to decertify an officer upon receiving a decertification notice from the sheriff, chief of police, agency administrator or an attorney for the state, and the person cannot serve as a law enforcement officer until the board reinstates them.
However, decertifications are not considered final until all grievances or appeals have been exhausted or waived and the finding of misconduct is made final. Also, if a conviction has not become final, the board can choose not to decertify the officer until the conviction is final.
According to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ master list, 146 officers, including the four from Suffolk, had been decertified as of mid-January.
Around Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater, Norfolk has seen eight officers decertified — seven in its police department and one in its sheriff’s office. Chesapeake’s law enforcement agencies have had seven officers decertified — five in its police department and two in its sheriff’s office. The Virginia Beach Police Department has had seven officers decertified, the Portsmouth Police Department has had two officers decertified, and the Smithfield and Windsor police departments have had one officer each decertified. The Southampton, Isle of Wight and Surry county sheriff’s offices have not had any officers decertified.
Being decertified means a person is not allowed to serve as a law enforcement officer in the state. The department has kept such a list since 1999.
By law, if a law enforcement officer has been convicted or pled guilty to a felony, or has been convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, or resigns prior to being convicted or found guilty of a disqualifying event, the chief of police must notify the Criminal Justice Services Board in writing within 48 hours.
The rise in decertifications across the state comes as there has been an emphasis on police reform following the murder of George Floyd, as well as a new law that expanded the offenses for decertification to include excessive force and lying.
Thompson was convicted in Suffolk Circuit Court of unlawful wounding in 2016, and his employment with the Suffolk Police Department was terminated that August.
In 2017, Bryant was convicted of reckless driving, a misdemeanor, in Suffolk General District Court and fined $250 in addition to $151 in costs. Another charge of capias reckless driving was dismissed.
Last year, he was found guilty of reckless driving, a misdemeanor, after initially being charged with driving while intoxicated – first offense in 2020. He was given a 30-day suspended sentence along with his license being suspended for six months and an ignition interlock restriction. He also had to pay $101 in court costs.
In April 2021, he was convicted of a second offense of violating a protective order, amended from a third offense of violating a protective order, and was sentenced to 12 months in jail, with 10 months suspended. He was also given two years of supervised probation and ordered to pay $790 in costs.
Bryant had started with the Suffolk Police in October 1997, earning several certifications while in the uniform patrol division and in 2005 had been promoted to master police officer. He received a commendation for locating and assisting a suicidal subject in 2007. Later that year he was promoted to sergeant.
Chandler said he supported the changes in the law allowing for the decertification of officers for lying or for excessive force. But he also said the department’s own internal protocols can weed out officers before the decertification process takes place. He said he has to know officers are telling the truth, and if he has questions about their credibility, then residents will have questions about their credibility too.
“Our stance has not changed,” Chandler said. “The law has changed, but ever since I’ve been here, one of the rules that you knew was definite and constant was, if you did not tell the truth, you would be terminated. There is no ifs, ands or buts about that. If you are caught not being truthful in the Suffolk Police Department, you will not keep your job and that has been proven at many levels within this department, historically.”
He said one day of false testimony could destroy decades of credibility.
“It is that serious, and we’ve got to hold that line,” Chandler said. “Now that may be relaxed one day. It will not be relaxed as long as I sit in the chair.”
He said what changed is the Department of Criminal Justice Services has said it would now decertify people based on lying or for using excessive force.
“That has not changed our operating procedure because we were doing that anyway,” Chandler said. “If you came from another jurisdiction, anyone that wanted to transfer here from another jurisdiction, we’re going to look and find out why they separated from that other jurisdiction. If it was for not telling the truth, if you committed certain crimes, then we weren’t going to hire you anyway, so it never changed our actions. This was already put in place with us.”