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2017-12-13 / Featured / Front Page

During police chief search, board chairwoman told former chief: 'Stay out of this'

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


Supervisors Leslie Haley (left) and Dorothy Jaeckle chat with County Administrator Joe Casey at the historic courthouse Nov. 21, shortly after introducing Jeffrey Katz (right) as Chesterfield’s new police chief. 
ASH DANIEL Supervisors Leslie Haley (left) and Dorothy Jaeckle chat with County Administrator Joe Casey at the historic courthouse Nov. 21, shortly after introducing Jeffrey Katz (right) as Chesterfield’s new police chief. ASH DANIEL Less than two weeks before the county announced its most important hire of the year – naming Boynton Beach, Florida, police chief Jeffrey Katz as Chesterfield’s new top cop – a growing tension between the Board of Supervisors and Katz’s predecessor, recently retired Col. Thierry Dupuis, was boiling over.

Dupuis, who retired as police chief in September, was working aggressively behind the scenes to influence the recruitment process on behalf of two long-serving internal candidates.

Dupuis and others within the local law enforcement community thought the county would be best served by maintaining continuity in senior leadership and promoting either interim Police Chief Dan Kelly or acting Deputy Chief Chris Hensley. The Chesterfield department has a reputation for being efficient and well-run – and largely devoid of public controversies – and Dupuis argued for consistency.


Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, introduces incoming police chief Jeffrey Katz at the historic courthouse in November. 
ASH DANIEL Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, introduces incoming police chief Jeffrey Katz at the historic courthouse in November. ASH DANIEL In a series of emails to the Board of Supervisors, which the Observer obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Dupuis expressed frustration about his lack of input into the recruitment process. He also questioned whether the board had been unduly influenced by a loosely coordinated effort to undermine the internal candidates.

That eventually put him at odds with the board.

“Stay out of this,” Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle told Dupuis in her response to his Nov. 12 email. “You were a great police chief and did a great job leading the police force. Don’t ruin your reputation based on hearsay.”


Col. Thierry Dupuis, flanked by Congressman Dave Brat and Brian Moran, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, was presented with a retirement cake in early August at Bensley Park. Dupuis officially retired Sept. 1. 
ASH DANIEL Col. Thierry Dupuis, flanked by Congressman Dave Brat and Brian Moran, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, was presented with a retirement cake in early August at Bensley Park. Dupuis officially retired Sept. 1. ASH DANIEL Nine days later, Jaeckle would introduce Katz during a press conference on the steps of the county’s historic courthouse.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to confirm Katz’s selection at its Dec. 13 meeting. Katz is scheduled to begin his tenure in Chesterfield on Jan. 2.

The Observer contacted Dupuis last week. He declined to answer specific questions about the police chief recruitment process, but did issue a statement via email.

“I am disappointed with the board’s decision, but not surprised,” Dupuis wrote. “I had sensed that this would be the outcome for some time, even before I had shared with them my intent to retire.

“During the process period I sent several emails to the board where I attempted to share my thoughts, as well as information which had been passed on to me by numerous Chesterfield County residents. The responses I received speak for themselves, and at this time merit no further comment.”

When Dupuis announced his retirement in June after 40 years in law enforcement – the last 38 of which were spent with the Chesterfield Police Department – the county hired a search firm, Springsted Waters, to conduct a nationwide recruitment for his successor.

It also formed a five-member committee, as required by the county charter, to help screen candidates and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

The outgoing chief wasn’t the only local official to take issue with the hiring process.

At the start of the first meeting of the police chief recommendation committee in July, Jaeckle informed committee members they were to submit three candidates for a final vote by the Board of Supervisors.

“That looks like political cover for the Board of Supervisors more than anything else,” Commonwealth’s Attorney William Davenport can be heard saying in an audio recording of the meeting, a copy of which was obtained by the Observer last week.

“I know the difference between statesmanship and politics,” Davenport added. “I’m just not going to be part of something where I can see the fix is in.”

“That’s your opinion,” Jaeckle replied.

Davenport, who was appointed to the committee by the county’s Circuit Court judges, noted that the police chief recommendation committee typically has chosen one candidate for consideration by the board.

He also recalled the county’s proposal to change the charter last year and give the county administrator authority to hire and fire the police chief without cause. The Board of Supervisors ultimately abandoned that proposed change after receiving pushback from some citizens.

“A police chief needs autonomy. He needs objectivity. If the Board of Supervisors can exert that kind of pressure on the chief, I’m concerned about criminal justice,” Davenport said.

Davenport left the meeting, but decided to remain on the committee after consulting with Judge T.J. Hauler, chief judge of the Chesterfield Circuit Court.

The Observer contacted Davenport’s office for comment last week and received no response by press time Monday.

The recommendation committee, which included Jaeckle, Davenport, County Administrator Joe Casey, former Henrico County Police Chief Doug Middleton and local pastor Wilson Shannon, was just one facet of the police chief recruitment process. The county hosted multiple meetings for employees and community members to weigh in on Dupuis’ successor. It also created an online survey that generated hundreds of responses.

Asked to identify the new chief’s top priorities, several survey respondents said it was important to address the department’s “good ole boy system” and “toxic culture” by bringing in a new chief from outside the county. Many others advocated for continuing the former chief’s policies and promoting from within the department.

Leslie Haley, vice chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said board members had “significant conversations” with county police officers and community members “who told us we needed to do a national search.”

“We really respect what our rank-and-file officers were telling us,” she added.

Dupuis thought he was being left out of the process, however, and said so in an Oct. 22 email to the five board members and Casey.

“I am troubled, as I’m sure the community members will be, that none of you have sought out my opinion on this decision,” he wrote. “I have a very in-depth knowledge of policing and being a chief of police, but you have failed to take advantage of what is available to you.” He followed up with another email on Nov. 12, alleging that a retired police officer had told a current employee that one of the internal candidates would never be selected as chief “if he had anything to do with it.”

While those contacted by the Observer declined to comment publicly, multiple people with knowledge of the search process claimed that as many as four disgruntled former Chesterfield police officers “got the ear” of various board members and lobbied them to hire an external candidate.

Dupuis didn’t name the retired officer cited in his email, but said he has had significant influence over the years with several members of the Board of Supervisors. Dupuis also claimed that Jaeckle and Matoaca District Supervisor Steve Elswick had sought to appoint the retired officer to the police chief recommendation committee.

“I told you then he was biased against several members of the police staff and had limited knowledge of the position,” he wrote. “I, and many others, wonder how much influence he has already had on your selections.”

Dupuis suggested that Jaeckle and Elswick recuse themselves and “turn over the decision” to the other three board members. He also recommended that they publicly announce the top candidates to give members of the community a chance to weigh in prior to the board’s vote.

“I believe these suggestions, if followed, will minimize the fallout of criticism that will follow,” he noted in his Nov. 12 email. “Don’t dismiss my suggestions. This community cares deeply for their police department and will react when they feel you are not doing what is in their best interest.”  

Response from the Board of Supervisors was swift. “You obviously don’t know what you are talking about as I did not advocate for anyone retired from CPD to be on the interview panel,” Elswick wrote to Dupuis the same day. “Your conspiracy theory is so far off base it’s not worth commenting on.”

Haley responded to Dupuis’ email as well, saying, “We respect your service to this county and thank you, but please respect that we were elected by the citizens to do a job and we are doing that independently in spite of numerous outside attempts to sway our choice.”

To date, county leaders have yet to provide specific reasons why they decided to hire a police chief from Florida instead of promoting Kelly or Hensley, who have nearly 60 years of combined experience in Chesterfield. “The future of this department would have been served much better by having appointed one of the highly qualified members who had devoted their life to the service of this community,” Dupuis said in his statement.

“I believe that there are many residents of Chesterfield County that share my disappointment with members of the board and the county administrator, and in time those residents will have an opportunity to express that displeasure. The question now is where do we need to go from here?

“The process has taken place and we must accept the decision that has been made. In order to move on, we must put the past behind us and focus on the future.”

In response to a series of questions for this story, Jaeckle insisted her board “never considered approaching the hiring of a new chief from the view of an internal versus external candidate. “We hired Springsted to conduct a nationwide search so we would have the opportunity to choose the best candidate, whether that be internal or external,” she noted via email. “Throughout the process, the board’s goal was to hire the most qualified candidate and this is what we did. This is what the citizens expect and deserve.”

Jaeckle also said that when Dupuis announced his impending retirement, he was “very clear to all board members on who he thought his successor should be.”

“I would consider that substantial input from the outgoing chief,” she added. “Although we appreciate and value his input, the charter gives the ultimate responsibility of hiring the police chief to the Board of Supervisors, not the outgoing police chief.” ¦

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