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Police chief search stirs controversy

Wesson aldermen have less than a week remaining to ponder thequestion of the town’s next chief of police – a decision that haswarranted almost five months of outside comments and criticism byone concerned resident.

Wesson Police Department Capt. Chad O’Quinn and officer DanielHutchinson are vying to be the town’s next chief after SteveCarlisle retires Saturday. Both have similar law enforcementbackgrounds.

Aldermen are expected to make a decision at Tuesday’s boardmeeting.

While officials mull their options, former Wesson investigativeofficer Jim Hampton has sent numerous letters to aldermen and themayor and even a mass mailing to Wesson residents concerning theselection of the next chief. Hampton’s letters have urged greatscrutiny on behalf of town leaders in making the decision.

“My intent was to make sure that the aldermen and mayor wentinto this with their eyes open,” Hampton said. “They’re going tomake whatever decision they want, but they can’t plead ignorance inthe end.”

Hampton – who claims that questionable dealings have beencommonplace in Wesson in the past – is concerned that the nextchief will be “one of the good ole boys” and will not make aneffort to change the town. Hampton was released from the policedepartment earlier this year in a dispute with department and townofficials.

Hampton has taken issue with O’Quinn’s Army discharge.

O’Quinn holds a general discharge under honorable conditions -not the same as an honorable discharge, but neither dishonorable,said the officer and Wesson Mayor Alton Shaw. Hampton – himself aretired Army colonel – is asserting that makes O’Quinn unfit toserve as chief.

“I was trying to make sure the town knew that the aldermen andmayor were seriously considering hiring someone who had been kickedout of the Army,” Hampton said of his many written warnings. “Theydon’t know why, I don’t know why – they need to know. I think it’sdereliction of duty on their part not to know.”

Shaw, however, has a copy of O’Quinn’s DD214 – the U.S.Department of Defense document of discharge – and said he knows thereason for O’Quinn’s discharge. Though neither man would comment onthe official reason for discharge, that reason has done nothing toaffect O’Quinn’s standing with town leaders.

“Capt. O’Quinn’s DD214 does not weight in on this process,” Shawsaid.

O’Quinn has recently joined the Mississippi National Guard – anenlistment that would not be possible with a questionabledischarge.

“He is in good standing with the military,” Shaw said. “Anyway,serving or not serving is not going to be a requirement or anexclusion for the position of Wesson’s chief of police.”

O’Quinn also vehemently defends his discharge, pointing to hisreenlistment in the guard as proof of his commitment.

“The characterization of my service has been exemplary,” O’Quinnsaid. “I think I’ve proven myself in the service and as a lawenforcement officer, and I’ve enlisted in the National Guardbecause I feel like I have more to offer the service.”

O’Quinn, a former shift sergeant in the Lincoln County Sheriff’sDepartment, has been a patrol supervisor in Wesson for years and isalso the drug interdiction officer for the Copiah County Sheriff’sDepartment, said he feels like the police department is headed inthe right direction, and does not anticipate making any majorchanges if appointed.

“The biggest thing is to make sure we keep active patrol forprevention and if something happens, be able to respond to it in atimely and proficient manner,” he said.

Hutchinson holds a similar view on the future of the department.Hutchinson said he does not foresee any major changes, personnel orotherwise, if he is appointed.

“I have no problems with any of these guys,” Hutchinson said.”We just need to make sure the community is secure.”

Hutchinson is also similar to O’Quinn in terms of experience, ashe also has held many titles in law enforcement, including sixyears as chief in Tipton, Okla. He has also served as fieldtraining officer, tactical training officer and worked inundercover narcotics investigations.

“I’ve done this for six years before, and I’ll do whatever isnecessary to see this community grow,” Hutchinson said. “I’m veryserious about what I do.”

No matter who is ultimately appointed, Shaw said the chief ofpolice is one of the most important positions in the town. Wessonrequires that any chief of police have at least five years ofmanagerial or supervisor experience and full-time certificationthrough the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy.Shaw said the next chief’s duties will be setting the department’sstandards and policies, serving as the chief investigative officerand managing day-to-day police activities.

Shaw said the responsibilities of the chief of police is whyWesson appoints, rather than elects, the position. In Wesson, alldepartment heads must be reappointed after each election, hesaid.

“Having an appointed chief places a certain amount of controlwith the board of aldermen and the mayor,” Shaw said. “It creates abetter checks and balances system. Some other cities who haveelected chiefs have problems setting up budgets and enforcingregulatory control.”