Brookhaven meeting becomes heated as board makes police chief appointed position

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A Brookhaven alderman and the chief of police got face-to-face in a heated argument during the board’s regular meeting.

Alderman-at-Large Don Underwood had just presented a motion to make the city’s top officer job an appointed rather than elected position.

Underwood said his research showed only nine of the 287 police chiefs across the state are elected and the rest are appointed. Eight of the towns or cities with elected chiefs are located in the northeastern portion of the state, making Brookhaven the solitary geographical outlier, he said.

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The alderman said he wanted to make the motion now, in part to give a ‘heads up’ to people who may be considering running for chief in the next election. Mayor Cox said he thought it was too early to make the move, being two years away from the city’s next municipal election.

“While I understand the importance of it, I don’t think the timing is correct,” he said.

From his seat in the meeting’s gallery, Chief Collins said he would like to make a statement, but Cox said he would need to wait until after the vote was taken.

With a second from Ward 6 Alderman Andre Spiller, and a third supporting vote from Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning, the motion passed.

Ward 5 Alderman Fletcher Grice voted no.

The remaining board members abstained from the vote — James Magee Jr., Ward 1; Shannon Moore, Ward 2; and Charles Caston, Ward 3.

Following the vote, Collins made comments from the gallery about the board wanting to run the police department, and that the chief position was one of the only ways a black man was able to get elected. He then said to Underwood “your little group ain’t gonna run this town.”

“Somebody needs to because you ain’t doing it,” Underwood responded. Both men then rose from their seats and continued to speak in loud voices, standing face-to-face near the podium.

Magee, Spiller and a man in the gallery stepped in to separate the men as Mayor Joe Cox banged his gavel to call order, but it was ignored.

Though the chief and aldermen were primarily surrounded by others at this point and were out of view of the camera broadcasting the meeting on Facebook live, Underwood told Collins, “Get your hand off of me!”

“Brookhaven got a right to elect their chief,” Collins said.

Underwood pointed to The Daily Leader’s news editor Brett Campbell and said, “I’m gonna make a statement because I want Brett to get this. I wasn’t going to hit him, but you saw what happened when he thought he could get on Jeff, he was the aggressor.”

“You’ve got a problem,” Collins said.

Underwood was referring to an incident in 2022 when Collins and Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning began yelling at each other following a board meeting over Henning’s disapproval of a vehicle expenditure by the BPD.

Cox and attorney Bobby Moak cleared all but board members and clerks from the room and talked behind closed doors for approximately one minute before opening the meeting again and inviting all to return to the room.

After the meeting, Underwood said he was not going to be bullied by the chief. He said he was a little embarrassed that the incident happened, but believes moving to an appointed chief is what’s best for the city.

“I think this is the way we need to move,” he said earlier in the meeting. “I ran on this.”

“You got an alderman that lies, saying I tried to hit him,” Collins said. “You don’t have the right to do what you want. People have got to make their choice. The people need to make their voices heard at the next election. I’m going to keep doing the best I can for the people who elected me to do a job.”