Hancock County

New Bay police chief — the 5th in 13 months — says he’s ready to take on the challenge

Gary Ponthieux Jr.
Gary Ponthieux Jr.

The city has named a Gulfport police supervisor and Bay St. Louis native to lead police operations for the beleaguered police department.

Mayor Mike Farve named Gary Ponthieux Jr. police chief at Tuesday night’s city council meeting. Ponthieux’s father and namesake is a previous Ward 1 alderman in Long Beach.

Ponthieux has 23 years of experience in law enforcement with the Gulfport Police Department.

“Gary’s background is dedication to the Gulfport Police Department, and he was highly recommended by numerous agencies throughout the Coast and the state,” Favre said.

“He’s a very good officer and I think he will be here a long time.”

Ponthieux said he is excited to return to his hometown, where he grew up and went to school, as the new chief of police.

“That was one of the deciding factors in taking the job,” Ponthieux said.

“The city holds a special place in my heart. I know a lot of people and a lot of businesses and I know about a lot of concerns in the city.”

Ponthieux’s police experience includes 10 years as a criminal investigator, more than 10 years as a narcotics investigator assigned to a state task force, and his most recent job as a patrol supervisor.

“I’m coming from a police system that’s proven, and I know what works and how to do it,” he said. “I’m bringing a lot of those practices to my job. They have a well-oiled machine in Gulfport and it works real well.”

Ponthieux, who lives in Henderson Point, three miles from the Bay police office, is married and has two children ages 7 and 4.

He said he knows the job will be a challenge.

“I knew that when I took the job, but I’ve got a great support network,” Ponthieux said. “The DA’s Office has offered its assistance as well as the Gulfport PD and all the agencies I’ve worked with through the years. I have a vast amount of resources available.”

Ponthieux assumed duties about 8 p.m. Tuesday.

“We have the full support of the Gulfport police chief and deputy chief in making the transition,” Favre said.

“Gary will be able to pick his assistant chief, whether it’s from inside or outside our department.”

He is the fourth person in a year to lead the police department, which has been operating out of Fire Station No. 1 since January. Its former headquarters have been condemned because of black mold. Also, its last chief and a former acting chief have been suspected of wrongdoing.

“We will move forward with the right leadership,” Favre said in response to the fluctuating police leadership in a city otherwise known as a beachside resort and a hangout for Coast residents who enjoy the city’s restaurants, bars and shops.

“Hiring Gary is a good opportunity to take a fresh look at how our department operates and its policies and procedures,”

Chief Mike De Nardo fatally shot himself after being relieved of his duties under suspicions of criminal activity on Sept. 8, 2016. He was suspected of an illegal gun sale and payroll fraud, the latter for which De Nardo apologized for in a note left on his desk before he shot himself, according to Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam.

Police Capt. Wes Mayley was interim chief for three months.

Then-Mayor Les Fillingame named former state trooper Daren Freeman as chief; Freeman assumed duties on Jan. 3. After starting his job, Freeman hired longtime federal investigator Matt Issman part-time to help with criminal investigations.

Freeman served eight months and resigned Sept. 11 over concerns of a video that allegedly showed him physically restraining a handcuffed suspect.

Farve appointed Issman as acting chief Sept. 12. Farve fired Issman two weeks later, saying Issman was not communicating with him.

Issman told the Sun Herald he was fired because the mayor was illegally interfering with a police investigation into an officer-involved shooting and Issman called him out on it. Issman said Favre wanted a certain investigator to be over the case and for the investigator to report solely to him. Issman said he told Farve state law prohibits mayors from getting involved in police operations.

Favre has declined to discuss that with the Sun Herald.

“It’s a personnel issue right now,” he said Wednesday “As far as me getting involved in police activity, I wouldn’t take it as getting involved.”

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews