Mayor Mike Favre on Tuesday announced the termination of Acting Police Chief Matt Issman, a decision Issman said revolves around the mayor’s plan to interfere in a criminal investigation.
Issman had been on the job two weeks with a goal of making improvements and bringing stability to the police department. Issman has 44 years of law enforcement, including experience as an internal affairs and fraud investigator with federal agencies.
Favre has named Lt. Push Phillips to manage police operations. Phillips will report directly to Favre, the mayor said in an interoffice memo emailed to all city personnel Tuesday.
Issman said the mayor fired him because he balked when he told Favre he had no authority to take over an investigation into a recent officer-involved shooting.
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“The mayor assigned an investigator to report directly to him and only to him,” Issman said.
“The law plainly says a mayor has no authority to engage in law enforcement activities, such as criminal investigations. The police chief is responsible for day-to-day operations and how investigations proceed,” Issman said, referring to state law.
Favre did not return a phone call from the Sun Herald for comment. He released a written response saying he intends to discuss “this pending personnel matter” with the city council on Oct. 3.
Here’s what Favre had to say:
“Since the traffic stop incident Mr. Issman referenced, I have experienced a serious lack of communication from Mr. Issman. I questioned the integrity of the investigative process under his command. Mr. Issman has not been forthcoming with pertinent, relevant investigative details.
“As Mayor and Council, we cannot have a leader on our team who does not transparently and effectively communicate with me, thereby not allowing me to transparently and effectively communicate with the council. As a mayor that has previously served as a councilman, I am not prepared to accept failed communication as a rift in the mayor/council relationship.”
No one was injured in the Sept. 20 shooting, which occurred during the pursuit of a woman with a child in her vehicle on Mississippi 603. The police department performed an internal affairs review and turned the case over to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations for an independent review. The MBI has not completed its investigation.
“I told the mayor from day one that if he wanted a ‘yes man,’ I wasn’t the man for the job,” Issman said Tuesday. “I hate it most of all for the community, for the city.”
Favre’s personal interest in the shooting investigation isn’t clear. Issman said the mayor didn’t discuss that with him.
“I appreciated everyone’s involvement and hard work in trying to make this department a place you were proud to say you worked for,” Issman wrote in an email to the police department.
“I am easy to get along with but do not tolerate interference into matters that are strictly the purview of the chief of police,” he wrote.
Favre announced the termination to the police department through an email to Police Capt. Wesley Mayley, who became interim chief after former Chief Mike De Nardo fatally shot himself in September 2016 while being relieved of his duties over criminal allegations.
Issman forwarded Favre’s email to the media along with the police department’s use-of-force policies and attorney general opinions that say a mayor cannot interfere with the activities of a police department.
Favre’s memo had one paragraph about the termination and Phillips’ new position. The remainder of the one-page memo discussed his campaign platform and five fundamental values he said he intended to bring to the city.
The memo also listed what the mayor expects from all city workers. Referring to the police department, Favre wrote:
“I will expect to be able to fully support the rightful actions of our police officers who work in one of the toughest jobs in government work. I will expect a police department that is supported by me, our city council and our community, so that together, we accomplish great things for Bay St. Louis.”
Issman was the third person to lead the department since De Narndo shot himself behind the police station on Sept. 8, 2016. De Nardo was under investigation on allegations of firearm sales and payroll fraud.
Mayley was acting chief for three months.
Favre named Daren Freeman, a Mississippi Highway Patrol worker, as chief in January. Freeman hired Issman as a part-time investigator when he became the chief.
Freeman served for eight months. He resigned Sept. 11 amid concerns over a video that showed him having questionable contact with a suspect being apprehended.
Favre appointed Issman to the position of interim chief on Sept. 12.