published Saturday, December 7th, 2013

Cleveland police Chief Wes Snyder is leaving

Wes Snyder Retirement Letter
Wes Snyder Retirement Letter

City leaders in Cleveland, Tenn., apparently weren't expecting police Chief Wes Snyder's abrupt announcement Friday that he will retire Jan. 5.

Several City Council members told the Times Free Press that City Manager Janice Casteel emailed them his resignation letter Friday.

"It's a surprise," said Councilman Bill Estes. "However, personnel matters are [Casteel's] purview. It's her job." Council members Avery Johnson, Richard Banks and Charlie McKenzie all declined to comment but said they expect the retirement to come up at Monday's council meeting.

Casteel confirmed to the Times Free Press on Friday that Snyder is departing but would not confirm that he had been asked to resign over allegations of misconduct, as multiple sources told the newspaper.

Snyder did not return an email seeking comment Friday.

Snyder came up through the ranks over 33 years in the Cleveland department, where his father was chief before him. He was named chief in 2004.

His retirement letter, dated Friday, stated that he will retire on his 10th anniversary as chief and called it an "honor and privilege" to lead the department.

During his tenure, Snyder oversaw the department's move into a new, $6 million police services building and modernized the force's training and equipment.

He named a department task force that reopened the stalled investigation into the 1999 Valentine's Day triple slaying that resulted in murder charges being brought against Twanna "Tart" Blair, Michael Younger and Maurice Johnson. Johnson was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and attempted aggravated robbery.

The city force achieved certification through the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement in 2012 and Tennessee Law Enforcement accreditation this year.

But the department under Snyder also had recurring problems and scandals.

In 2007, District Attorney Steve Bebb asked the TBI to investigate whether Snyder and another officer had lied in a federal trial. Bebb later submitted a report to the City Council accusing Snyder of perjury and other misconduct, including ordering officers to conduct illegal arrests. Bebb declined to press charges, and the council took no action.

In December 2008, one officer shot and wounded another at a pill party. The ensuing investigation uncovered evidence that a few cops addicted to pills were having sex with young teenage girls and giving them pills and alcohol. Two officers went to prison on statutory rape charges.

In 2011 and early 2012, the Times Free Press documented years of disciplinary problems among the police ranks taken from the department's own records.

Officers, including the chief's brother-in-law, repeatedly were disciplined for multiple instances of sexual misconduct, sometimes with criminal suspects, but were kept on the job.

At the time of the Times Free Press series, city leaders supported the chief, newspaper archives show.

"I personally have confidence in Chief Snyder and his professional ability," Mayor Tom Rowland said at a December 2011 City Council meeting. Councilmen David May, George Poe, Richard Banks and Avery Johnson expressed support for Snyder then, too.

Correspondent Paul Leach contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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