Community questions why officer with 25 years of complaint-free service is no longer on force
Last week, long-serving Monteagle Chief of Police Virgil McNeece left his job with the force. According to Tony Gilliam, a Monteagle alderperson, “As it is right now, he quit.”
Gilliam made this comment at Monday night’s Monteagle City Council meeting where community members filled the room and asked the council to explain McNeece’s parting with the city.
Monteagle Mayor David Sampley stated at the meeting that he could not talk about any employee in an open meeting, especially one who was not there to defend himself. As McNeece was not present at the meeting, Sampley said he felt it was disrespectful to address the issue.
This did not stop members of the audience from raising questions about McNeece. Rumors had surrounded McNeece’s departure for a week, and while the council would not address specifics, community member Doris Wiggins explained that she had spoken with Virgil who reported that he was given three options last week by Gilliam, who was serving as vice-mayor while Sampley was out of town. The options, according to Wiggins, were to be demoted, to quit, or to be fired. In her conversation with McNeece, Wiggins was told that Gilliam said he had the backing of the council on the issue. McNeece told her that “he had been here (Monteagle) for 25 years and would not take a demotion.”
That three options were given to McNeece was backed up by another audience member who stated that she had a conversation with Gilliam on July 24, during which he told her he gave McNeece the three options. The audience member also stated that Gilliam told her he did not believe people of faith should be in law enforcement, referring to McNeece’s Christian faith.
That the entire council was in agreement with McNeece’s leave-taking is questionable. Blaylock said she had “absolutely nothing” to do with McNeece’s departure and did not even know about it until after it had occurred. She also told the audience that during McNeece’s 25 years with the department, he did not have one complaint against him in his personnel file.
Although McNeece was not at Monday’s meeting, a copy of a letter he submitted to Sampley, the council members, and the citizens of Monteagle was posted on Facebook on Tuesday. In the letter, McNeece says he was instructed by Gilliam not to attend Monday’s meeting and, as such, the letter is to serve as his statement regarding his employment with Monteagle.
In part, the letter states:
“On Monday, July 22, 2019, Vice Mayor Tony Gilliam met with me, in my office at the Police Dept. He came in, closed the door and began telling me that I was being demoted. I asked him why and he told me I wasn’t doing my job. Folks, I am very proud of the department that I have built, I and my officers work very hard for Monteagle. I have been with the Monteagle Police Department for 25 years. I have been head of the department for almost 13 years and no one has ever filed a complaint on me. This is the first time anyone has ever accused me of not doing my job, so I told him I would not accept a demotion. Mr. Gilliam then old me that I would either accept the demotion, resign or be fired. He told me that it was time to move on. So, what I’m trying to say is that I did not voluntarily resign. I didn’t want to leave Monteagle. I love Monteagle, but I had no choice.”
Sampley was asked at Monday’s meeting if he was satisfied with what had happened, and he indicated he is not satisfied anytime something goes wrong.
Gilliam stated during the meeting that he did not feel bad about what took place (concerning the events surrounding McNeece’s departure).
A call last week to Gilliam for comments had not been returned by press time.
At the conclusion of the meeting, audience members asked the council to set a meeting during which McNeece would have the opportunity to make a statement. Sampley agreed that a meeting could take place, but no date was set. The council will meet with the city’s lawyers before setting a meeting date, which then must be advertised to the public.
Former Assistant Chief of Police Jack Hill is now the acting Chief of Police for the city. Audience members stressed that though they were concerned over the circum-stances of McNeece’s departure, Hill has their full support in his new role as Chief of Police.