North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

December 3, 2012

Update: Morris residents protest police chief's ouster

By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News

MORRIS — The town of Morris’ police chief was informed last week that he would not be reappointed, and that has some of the town’s residents furious.

About a dozen people staged a protest Friday night at the intersection of Morris Majestic Road and Stouts Road. Meanwhile, the Morris Town Council, some town employees and their families were having their Christmas party across the street at the Morris Senior Center.

Morris Mayor Joe Pylant, in one of his first official acts as mayor of Morris, told Brian Cochran on Nov. 28 that Cochran would no longer be serving in that position.

Pylant did not give specific reasons for not rehiring Cochran, who has been police chief for more than six years. He said that Cochran was not fired and did not resign.

“Things have happened that caused him not to be reappointed,” Pylant said. “I can’t go into legal stuff. His services are not needed any longer.”

The mayor has the authority to dismiss police chiefs, fire chiefs and city clerks without the council’s approval because they are appointed. The council did not vote on the matter; town officials said some of the council members did not know that Cochran was not being retained until after it happened.

“I’m disappointed in the decision by the mayor,” said Cochran. “In my opinion, I’ve done a fine job for the town of Morris. If you look at what the police department was when I took over compared to what it is now, we’ve come a long way.”

Cochran added that he feels he has earned the respect of the town of Morris, and that he returns that respect.

“I love this community,” he said. “I wish them all the best with whoever they choose to be the next chief.”

Some Morris residents are not wishing the best for the town council; those at the protest on Friday were calling for Pylant’s resignation.

“Fire the mayor,” stated some of the hand-held signs. Other signs stated, “Bring back Chief Cochran” and “Fire Mayor, Rehire Chief Cochran.”

Mike Harrell, who has served as a reserve police officer for Morris, organized the gathering, which he said was smaller than he had hoped because he put it together in only four hours.

“I think we got the point across,” Harrell said. “We’re going to be at every city council meeting until he [Pylant] resigns or Brian is rehired or both. We’ll do whatever we can to get Brian rehired.”

John Paul Motte, who was also at the protest, said he wants to see Cochran reinstated because of the positive impact he made as police chief.

“Everywhere you look in town, something is better because he’s had his hand on it,” Motte said.

Motte said when his father, Jerry Motte, was sick with cancer and unable to drive, that Cochran drove him to every ball game.

“He is a good man and a good police chief,” Motte said. “He’s certainly done nothing worth losing his job over.”

Cochran did say he thinks his dismissal is a “personal vendetta” against him from an incident that happened about three years ago.

Cochran said Pylant’s wife was stopped on a traffic stop, and filed a complaint against the officer.

“It was investigated by me, and the video was reviewed by [then] Mayor [Craig] Drummonds,” Cochran said, adding that neither of them found that the police officer was in the wrong. “I still believe he may hold a vendetta and a grudge.”

However, Pylant denies that the incident plays into his decision to not reappoint Cochran.

“There never was a ticket given. It’s not a personal vendetta,” Pylant said.

He said Cochran did not show up for an organizational meeting where employee reappointments were discussed, which he said indicated that Cochran did not want the position.

“That’s one of many reasons he wasn’t reappointed,” Pylant said. “I don’t take this lightheartedly. This has been weighing on me a long time.”

Cochran said he does not have immediate plans, but that he had already been exploring other job possibilities.

Pylant said the town of Morris is taking applications for police chief. He said on Monday that he had received about five applications so far.

There is no deadline to turn in applications.

“The mayor and council will look at them,” Pylant said. “We will appoint someone when we get the right application in that’s the best fit for the town.”