ELBA, AL (WSFA) - Three officers with the Elba Police Department are off work following an investigation into the department by the Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission.
According to a press release from APOST, the commission ordered the immediate suspension of the certification of Chief Freddy Hanchey, Lt. Robert Lavoie, and Investigator Carl Gunter for alleged forgery and submission of required annual firearm qualification reports.
APOST says the documents were for 2015, 2016, and 2017 and were part of a "systematic practice" for "substantially all officers with the Elba Police Department."
The violations fall under Ala. Code Section 41-22-19(c) and Ala. Admin. Code Rule 650-X-6-.01. The immediate suspension falls under Ala. Admin. Code Rule 650-x-2-.05 (12) which states, "any law enforcement officer who knowingly and willfully violates the Rules and Regulations of the Commission, shall be subject to having their Certification suspended or revoked by the Commission."
According to Elba's mayor, the nine officers who work in the department not suspended from the investigation have until this week to get re-certified. Mayor Mickey Murdock says he's not sure why the officers may not have gotten the certification in the first place.
"It's not certain because we didn't have the resources to do that. We might not have it in Elba, but we have opportunities to go in Opp and that's where they're going Wednesday," said Murdock. "It's only 15 or 16 miles away from here. It's not money. I don't think we have a valid reason for them not to do that."
According to the assistant city clerk, during the years in question there were no firearms discharged by officers on duty. Regardless, Mayor Murdock says he agrees with APOST about this being a matter of public safety and he is disappointed.
"I was sad. I was dismayed about what took place, but investigators investigated and determined what happened and I got to deal with it and move forward," said Murdock.
He says the city is working with Chief Alan Benefield with APOST along with the Coffee County Sheriff's Office moving forward. Coffee County's Chief Deputy Ronnie Whitworth will serve as the interim chief as the city searches for new leadership. Whitworth is also the former police chief in Elba.
The city had already begun the process of searching for a new chief. Chief Hanchey, along with Investigator Gunter, had submitted their retirement notices before the investigation ended.
The city is hoping to have selected a new chief within the next few weeks.
"I think the main thing I'd like to express to the public is we understand what happened and understand what we need to do and have the support of the Coffee County Sheriff's Department and I feel good about that," said Murdock.
The sheriff's department has also volunteered extra deputies to patrol Elba because the department is now short staffed.
A hearing has been set for the revocation of the three members' certification for July 19 at 10 a.m. at Commission headquarters in Montgomery. The investigation has been referred to the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation.