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SCMPD weathers a week of scandal, upheaval

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Changes have come hard and fast for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, leaving many Savannahians with whiplash.

One week ago, Chief Willie Lovett retired, suddenly, after metro Detective Trina Mayes' sexual harassment allegation against him became public.

Thursday, Interim Chief Juliette Tolbert put three Metro officers on paid leave.

One was Capt. Cedric Phillips, commander of the Metro Drug Squad. Sgt. Laprentice Mayes, the husband of the woman bringing the sexual harassment claim, has accused Phillips in his own Savannah Human Resources complaint of having been involved in the sexual harassment scandal.

Also put on leave were Officer Willet Williams and Sgt. Malik Khaalis. That came after a joint investigation by the Chatham-Savannah Counter-Narcotics Team, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms surfaced – and after news that both the Chatham District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Georgia are refusing to use those officers' testimony, citing credibility issues.

No criminal charges have been brought against either Williams or Khaalis.

A 2010 Metro Internal Affairs investigation found corruption allegations against them "not sustained."

Friday, Metro Major Mike Wilkins submitted his own retirement papers, leaving the department for a job at Gulfstream. The announcement came one week after he was promoted to major and placed on City Manager Stephanie Cutter's three-member "transition team," in place while the city searches for a new chief.

Friday night, downtown residents were reeling from the news.

"He was dedicated, worked 24/7, was accessible, was a great communicator," Downtown Neighborhood Watch Captain Staci Donegan said of Wilkins.

Donegan is used to Mike Wilkins. She said he's a familiar face. But Chief Lovett, she said, wasn't.

Asked what they want in a new chief, downtown residents said "accessibility."

"Where was Chief Lovett?" Donegan said of his nearly four-year tenure as chief. "Where was Willie Lovett?"

Interviewed Tuesday, Interim Chief Juliette Tolbert said accessibility is one of her goals.

"In terms of the command staff, we're going to work more closely together in resolving both the internal and the external issues that we have," she said.

Downtown Neighborhood Association president Hank Reed welcomes the change.

"I think it was necessary, really, to have a command shakeup," he said. "Any chief, not just chief Lovett, wouldn't have been able to carry on with these kind of allegations."

Reed's biggest concern is that these scandals don't affect the pride of the roughly 600 officers who wear the Metro badge.

"We can't tar everybody with these same feathers that these one or two bad apples have," he said.

Copyright 2013 WTOC. All rights reserved.


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