Town residents voice support for police chief

MIDDLETOWN – Police Chief R. Philip Breeden remains on probation after town residents voice support for the law-enforcement veteran.

Town Council voted at a special meeting to extend Breeden’s probation by 21 days and to decide his employment status on Jan. 11. Council put Breeden on probation about two months ago in response to some complaints lodged against the chief, Mayor Charles Harbough IV said after the meeting.

Vice Mayor Thomas Simon made the motion approved unanimously by council that also states the chief can come before the panel Jan. 11 to publicly present his side in response to any complaints received by the town. Council will determine at the end of the meeting what action to take, the motion states. During the probation, the mayor, vice mayor or designee will meet with the chief to address the complaints. The recordings of the meetings will be made available to the public, the motion states.

Council took action after meeting in closed session for almost an hour to discuss the matter with Town Attorney J. David Griffin. Breeden did not participate in the closed session discussion. Councilor Carole Snyder Jones made the motion to go into closed session to discuss the chief’s employment status. Councilors George Smith, Jeffrey Pennington and D. Scott Fink voted in favor of the motion. Councilor Carolyn Ailiff and Simon voted against the motion. Virginia law allows public bodies to talk about personnel matters in closed session without divulging any details of the subject matter.

Several dozen people filled the council chambers, many of whom were tipped off that the panel planned to discuss and possibly take action on Breeden’s employment with the town. Most people in the audience appeared to support Breeden and several spoke up for the chief earlier in the meeting, recounting times he helped them work out a problem, sometimes outside the realm of his regular duties. Supporters said he was not only helpful to town residents but also worked in a professional manner.

Some residents complained that council tried to oust Breeden quietly and without giving proper notice to the public. They criticized council for acting in what they called an underhanded way.

Early in the meeting some residents, including former mayor and councilman John Copeland, who knew the topic, wanted to speak. But, as Copeland and others pointed out, council had not divulged the topic of the meeting. Council moved the public comment portion earlier in the meeting but that just prompted more questions by the audience who said they needed to know the topic if they wanted to speak. Eventually council and the mayor caved to pressure from the audience to divulge the topic of the proposed closed session and informed them of the reason for the meeting.

While most people who spoke at the meeting voiced support for Breeden, council did hear from one person who has complained about the chief. Betty Ward, who owns property in the 7800 block of Main Street, said she had lodged one of the complaints against the chief in mid November, after his probation started. Ward told council about her problem with an adjacent property owner and she criticized the police chief’s response when she asked him for help.

Someone also lodged a complaint against the police chief over traffic problems created by the recent Christmas parade as a result of a lack of law enforcement officers at the event to direct motorists.

Harbaugh said after the meeting that the town received complaints about Breeden. Lacking a town manager, council and the mayor must address complaints themselves. The Personnel Committee met recently to discuss the matter and forwarded the topic to full council. Harbaugh wouldn’t give specifics but said Breeden was put on probation 60 days ago after the town received some complaints about the chief.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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