Georgia police chief takes $400,000 to quit after bias claim

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) – A Georgia police chief will leave his job after accepting a $400,000 payment to retire.

Columbus Police Chief Freddie Blackmon went on administrative leave beginning Friday and will retire on April 30 after 37 years with the department.

Local news outlets report that city leaders initially offered Blackmon $250,000 to leave. Blackmon responded by demanding $850,000 and threatening to sue the city for racial discrimination.

Blackmon had been chief since Nov. 2020, becoming the city’s second black chief. The department polices all of Muscogee County under Columbus’ consolidated city-county government structure.

Assistant chiefs Debra Kennedy and Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick will lead the department on a day-to-day basis as the city consults with the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police on appointing an interim chief.

“The goal is to get an interim in there, like 10 minutes ago,” Mayor Skip Henderson told the Ledger-Enquirer of Columbus late last week.

Several city council members said they expect a national search for a permanent chief.

Columbus will continue providing Blackmon with health insurance at the employee rate until he reaches retirement age. The chief agreed not to sue the city.

Henderson moved to oust Blackmon the day after Blackmon presented a strategic plan in mid-March.

The move came amid a wave of shootings, including one in which nine juveniles were wounded at a gas station on Feb. 16. Blackmon proposed boosting pay, seeking to expand the force to a budgeted 572 officers, up from the current 498 positions. But only 295 officers were on the payroll then, adding to concerns about officer departures.

Columbus saw a record 70 homicides in 2021. That fell to 45 last year, but Muscogee County Sheriff Greg Countryman and others said the city benefited from the ending of a gang war. The department’s approach to fighting gang violence was criticized in a privately funded November study, finding the department wasn’t doing enough to gather intelligence on gangs.

The study also found experienced officers weren’t leaving because of low pay but because of low morale caused by poor leadership.

Blackmon’s lawyers claimed the study relied too much on complaints from the white-led local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

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