Tennessee town’s police chief resigns, cites ‘good ole boy’ mindset

HENDERSON, Tenn. — A former Memphis police lieutenant who retired and then became a police chief in a nearby county resigned this week, and Friday was his final day on the job.

Wilton Cleveland started as Henderson police chief only a year and a half ago.

He says he went in hoping to make changes but after some red flags and a recent suspension, he decided to move on. He says the town needs a federal investigation.

In 2016, Cleveland retired as a Memphis police lieutenant after more than 25 years with the department. He worked in the Sex Crimes Unit and investigated Internet crimes against children.

“After a while, it kind of wears on you, you want to get away from it and I think it was time for me to get away from it,” Cleveland said.

He then became chief of the Henderson Police Department at the end of 2016, and soon noticed areas needing fixing.

He said the secretary, who doesn't have a law enforcement background, was deciding what law was broken after reading crime reports. Officers were working unpaid overtime and also weren’t signing affidavits.

He also noticed problems with department organization, technology and scheduling.

But then, a bigger issue came on his radar — something he describes as a "good ole boy" mindset.

“That’s the mindset of the community here. I shouldn’t get a ticket because I’m a good citizen, go get those guys. Or go get the guys who don’t live here,” Cleveland said.

He says he received push-back for trying to up traffic enforcement and not allowing officers to play favorites, even to the level of people spreading lies about him.

Then he says two sergeants and an officer lied to the Board of Aldermen.

After one of the officer's disciplinary hearings, Cleveland was suspended for five days for being unprofessional during a meeting with supervisors.

“I was very upset, I used some inappropriate language,” he said.

Community members started calling for his resignation and then, he heard someone threatened his child as a way to get him out of town.

The thought shakes him to the core. “It’s horrific,” he said.

Despite meeting good people and overseeing some talented officers, he says he had no choice but to resign.

He said he was pushed out, saying he wanted to be part of the community but felt too many are spiteful and hateful toward outsiders.

He thinks the interim chief will continue the progress he’s started.

But Cleveland thinks an investigation needs to be done on a higher level, and has spoken with the FBI. He also said the district attorney is also looking into some issues, but he can't discuss them.

He hopes some of the alderman and police officers damaging the town will soon be replaced.

Since there could be a possibility for litigation, the mayor says he, the Board of Alderman and the city attorney are going to go over all this in an executive session meeting. Then the board will decide where to go from there.

Out of the six city aldermen, only Johny Farris responded to our requests for a comment/interview, saying he couldn’t comment for ethical reasons and because it’s regarding personnel issues.