Pound, VA – The town of Pound eliminated its entire police force on Tuesday.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp noted in court documents that the Pound Town Council voted on May 18 to “terminate every officer in its police department,” to include Pound Police Chief Tony Baker, WJHL reported.
Pound Town Manager Drew Mullins said the town opted to do away with the police force for “cost-saving reasons,” according to WCYB.
Town officials said on April 20 they would consider working out an agreement with the county regarding law enforcement coverage or that they could possibly rebuild the town’s police department altogether, according to the Times News.
The council also voted 3-2 the same day to furlough Chief Baker, former town attorney Tim McAfee, and a part-time Pound police officer for 60 days.
Four other officers quit prior to the April 20 furloughs, leaving the town without an active police force, the Times News reported.
Chief Baker said the April 20 vote was “unlawful” and refused to hand over his key to the Pound Police Department’s (PPD) evidence locker due to chain-of-custody issues.
PPD did surrender all of its equipment, town-owned vehicles, codes, and keys to all areas except the evidence room, the Times News reported.
“We are not relinquishing control of the evidence room or permitting non law enforcement officers to have access to information saved on police computers,” Chief Baker wrote at the time of his furlough late last month, according to the Times News. “We have discussed this issue with several persons, including legal counsel, and everyone has stated the obvious, which is, that we cannot voluntarily comply with this order.”
Slemp noted that under Virginia law, the police chief or local sheriff is responsible for securing all law enforcement records for the agency, the Times News reported.
“If a new chief is hired, they would take control of the records that that would resolve the situation,” he said.
After the town council’s vote to formally abolish the PPD altogether on Tuesday, Slemp filed a petition in Wise County Circuit Court asking the judge to put a temporary halt on the town’s order to turn over the keys to the evidence room until a lawful overseer is appointed, WJHL reported.
If now-former Chief Baker were to hand over the evidence locker keys to a non-law enforcement individual, it would result in an “illegal break in the chain of custody and obstruct justice in a manner possibly punishable as a class 1 misdemeanor,” according to Slemp.
“The decision of the town council was made without recognition of the consequences of what happens. There’s evidence, there are drugs, narcotics, guns, money, seized items that are within the possession and control of the police department,” Slemp told WJHL. “The code in Virginia is clear when a town like this creates a police department, the town is required to follow certain protocols and has the responsibility to secure evidence.”
“The Town of Pound established a police department and therefore vested in it the powers and responsibilities of a law enforcement agency,” he continued. “As such, it must employ qualified personnel who are legally allowed to maintain and access the records of the Town’s law enforcement agency and any evidence.”
Slemp said ensuring the proper evidence security is an imperative element for pending criminal cases.
“[We have] to make sure the evidence is secured properly and to make sure there’s no break in the chain of custody that might influence or cause a problem in one of our cases,” he told WJHL.
“If they’re going to make that decision [to abolish the police department], it’s very important that they follow the law and put steps in place, not abruptly in the middle of the night… but have some advanced planning to figure out who this stuff goes to and what the Virginia law requires in order for them to actually do it the right way,” Slemp added.
A court hearing on Slemp’s petition is scheduled for May 25, WJHL reported.