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Riverdale reinstates police captain

By Bob Paslay

Controversial Riverdale Police Capt. Philip R. Neely Jr., whose firing earlier this year created a storm of controversy and a march on City Hall, has been reinstated to his job.

City Manager Iris Jessie, who was not in that post when Neely was fired, confirmed he was back on the job Monday after a hearing officer ruled in his favor.

Neely could not be reached for comment.

The black police captain was fired after first making and later withdrawing a claim that he was threatened on the job. He talked to the media and appeared on a radio program.

His firing on May 12 came against a backdrop of charges and countercharges involving the Riverdale Police Department, including racial discrimination inside the department and outside involving treatment of black citizens. A federal probe recommended some changes in the way the department is run.

Jessie said the hearing officer heard evidence last month and ruled that the firing was too strong a punishment for the violation of department rules.

Instead, the hearing officer recommended a suspension of 24 work hours for violating a rule that Jessie said involved "a verbal report to the news media about an incident involving city employees without the permission of the chief of police."

Jessie said the captain's post was not filled permanently and the interim person doing that job will return to former duties.

The city does not plan to appeal the hearing officer's decision, Jessie said.

"I consider the matter closed," the city manager said, adding she doesn't anticipate any problems with Neely returning to work.

But Clayton County NAACP President Dexter Matthews, whose organization supported Neely, said the issue is not closed and there continues to be a need for changes in the Riverdale Police Department.

He called for a forum to hear citizens and said the Riverdale City Council so far has been unwilling to open up a dialogue with its citizens.

"We are very pleased he has his job back," Matthews said. "We think that was the correct move to make because we said he shouldn't have been terminated."

After the dispute over his claims of being threatened, Neely was first placed on administrative leave on March 25. He said in an interview after his later firing he was called by interim City Manager Sylvester Murray and told, "I would be fired if I didn't resign. I didn't see any reason to resign."

In a memorandum, Murray made references to Neely's claim he got an indirect threat from a city employee that his life might be in danger if he went to work. The memo cited three reasons for Neely's firing, including talking about confidential Police Department investigations and making statements to the media "which you knew to be untrue."