Members of the Columbus City Council said they were surprised to learn of Columbus Police Chief Tony Carleton’s decision to step down.
Carleton alerted council members of his decision Monday morning. He gave Mayor Robert Smith a resignation letter Sunday night. Carleton’s resignation came a little more than two weeks after the officer-involved shooting death of Columbus resident Ricky Bell on Oct. 16.
Most council members said they had not expected Carleton to resign.
“When he texted me this morning, I was just devastated,” Ward 2 councilman Joseph Mickens told The Dispatch. “Had no idea that he was even contemplating it. No idea.”
Carleton, who had previously served as chief of police in Tupelo for four years, joined CPD in Sept. 2013 as assistant chief. He became CPD chief in June 2014, earning $73,500 a year.
Ward 1 councilman Gene Taylor said he thought Carleton was “very happy here.”
“It could be a future job,” Taylor said. “I have no idea why he resigned.”
Carleton told council members he found another job — Smith said it was a teaching gig in Alabama — but did not offer a specific reason for resigning. Council members, though, thought it was at least partially caused by the investigation into Ball’s shooting death.
One officer involved in the shooting was fired Friday by the city council. Two others that were involved have been suspended for 30 days. The officers were equipped with body cameras. None of the cameras were activated prior to or during the shooting, authorities say. Authorities say Ball was shot twice after pointing a pistol at officers. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is investigating.
“I think one would have to be kind of crazy not to know that all that’s going on here is a large part of it,” Ward 3 councilman Charlie Box said of Carleton’s resignation. “When a city councilman says on Facebook that you need to be fired, repeatedly, several times, that’s got to trouble you. I know that he was awful upset about the young man getting shot, and so this might have just kind of brought it all to a head.”
Box was referring to Facebook posts made by Ward 5 councilman Marty Turner in the wake of Ball’s death.
“The pressure of the Ricky Ball case is maybe too overwhelming for him and I wish he would have stayed until this process played out,” Turner said.
Turner was the sole councilman who, when contacted by The Dispatch Monday, did not express disappointment that Carleton resigned.
“I’m happy,” Turner said. “I’m glad he, you know, he resigned.”
Turner said Carleton did not react properly to Ball’s shooting. Turner said Carleton did not visit the crime scene or alert the city council and tell them of the shooting.
“At least I know he didn’t call me about the situation that happened,” Turner said. “I had to find out from the neighbors. I think I should have been the first one to call because it happened in my ward.”
Turner has been vocal on social media in his criticism of Carleton and the city’s handling of the shooting. However, other council members said they were disappointed to see Carleton go.
“He was a tremendous asset to the Columbus Police Department,” Box said. “He was doing a good job and it’s just unfortunate that all this happened, and it maybe shined a negative light. And some of the good things he’s done, we’re not going to take a look at that. We’re going to see all this other stuff. And I hate it. I do.”
Ward 6 councilman Bill Gavin said it’s difficult to be a police officer, especially now that the nation’s attitude toward law enforcement has changed in light of highly publicized police shootings that go viral on social media.
“I think as a nation as a whole, and the city together collectively, we need to take another look at what we’re becoming as a society,” Gavin said. “We’re now blaming policemen, and I’m not defending anyone, but they’re our protectors. They’re there for us. They need some sort of support and I fully support — and have in the past supported — Chief Carleton and support the Columbus Police Department. They’ve got a very very tough job.”
Ward 5 councilman Kabir Karriem said that though Carleton’s resignation is unfortunate, it was probably for the best in the long run.
“It’s an unfortunate situation that he’s resigning at a time like this,” he said. “I think now with him resigning, it’s just real bad … I think it’s best that he resign because I think the community has lost trust in him and I think his bosses, meaning the council … possibly could get information that we’ve not been privy to collectively to find out what really happened to Mr. Ball. But it’s a shocker. It’s a shocker.”