March 21, 2018 10:26:03 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Columbus councilmen voted 4-2 Tuesday evening to suspend a city police officer for 30 days without pay for "conduct unbecoming" after he was stopped earlier this month in Starkville on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Starkville police pulled over Louis Alexander, a part-time patrol officer with Columbus Police Department, on or around March 9, according to multiple city officials familiar with the investigation. Those officials all said SPD did not cite or arrest Alexander, despite his registering a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit on a Breathalyzer test.
Instead, the Columbus sources, who wished not to be named, said CPD Chief Fred Shelton was notified and another city employee went to pick up Alexander.
Those sources also claim Alexander told SPD he is the "interim assistant chief" at CPD, although no such position exists.
Starkville Police Chief Frank Nichols confirmed the stop to The Dispatch last week, as well as there being no charges filed against Alexander. Nichols would not comment on the reason for the stop but defended his department's decision not to file charges.
The Dispatch has requested through the Freedom of Information Act records of the stop -- including officer body camera footage -- from the city of Starkville.
Several Columbus councilmen confirmed they weren't made aware of the incident until Friday morning, just before The Dispatch broke the story.
Alexander is on his second stint with CPD. He was hired as a part-time patrolman on Dec. 9, 2015, city Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell said.
He first worked with the department from 1989-2008 before retiring as a sergeant. Alexander's current pay rate of $17.76 per hour is what he was making upon retirement, Mitchell said. She added it was customary for retirees coming back part-time to maintain their previous pay rate.
Name-calling after the meeting
Alexander's suspension, which three city officials present for the vote confirmed, came after a brief executive session.
However, after the meeting Mayor Robert Smith and Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens got into a heated exchange that spilled from the courtroom of the Municipal Complex into the hallway.
By the time the two men made it to the hallway, they were quoting Bible references at one another with the mayor at one point directing to the councilman: "You reap what you sow."
Mickens, still standing in the hallway, began loudly commenting to the media about the exchange.
"The mayor is a bully," Mickens said. "He's been bullying people long enough."
Multiple sources involved in the executive session conversation told The Dispatch Mickens favored firing Alexander, rather than suspending him. Mickens would not comment further on the record.
Smith, speaking to The Dispatch, made light of his and Mickens' confrontation.
"We were talking about what was discussed in executive session," he said. "We were just talking like we always do. I called him a bully, too."
The Columbus council's decision came down as Starkville aldermen also were holding their regular meeting at City Hall.
After that meeting, aldermen The Dispatch approached about the DUI stop -- including Ben Carver of Ward 1, Roy A. Perkins of Ward 6 and Henry Vaughn of Ward 7 -- declined to comment, citing it was a personnel matter.
Mayor Lynn Spruill, however, confirmed city leaders are looking into why Alexander was let go without being arrested or cited.
"We are looking at our city policies and will revisit how we handle things like this," she said. "I don't think this will occur again."
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
1. Three dead in Artesia shooting COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Taco tantrum leads to arrest COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Haddix named new Oktibbeha NAACP president STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
5. Motorcycles, beer and travel: LaFrance always finds something to do STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY