FOREST PARK—A communications company hired by the City of Forest Park has issued a press release on behalf of Chief Nathaniel Clark, stating that Maj. Chris Matson and assistant to former Chief Dwayne Hobbs, Susan Ridling, have been fired for alleged financial improprieties. The release also confirms allegations of police surveillance of two councilmembers.
According to the press release, on his arrival, Clark "immediately began assessing all aspects of the Police Department and he is now prepared to implement significant changes to address several key issues. These include systemic financial mismanagement, surveillance of Forest Park City Council members, and restructuring."
The release said Clark requested an independent audit by Mauldin and Jenkins, which "identified a number of deficiencies. These included problems with inventory control of weapons and ammunition, accounting irregularities, and systemic failures in compliance with the department's standard operating procedures."
Further investigation found that "department funds were unaccounted for."
According to the press release, Ridling "reported that she was directed, in violation of the City code, to cash thousands of dollars in checks without accounting records for the cash. The report also suggested thousands of dollars in training ammunition [was] sold to officers for cash without being in compliance with accounting measures to track the cash flow. As a result, Ridling and Matson were fired. Matson reportedly was in charge of "overseeing the ammunition sales."
The News has not been able to reach Matson for comment.
In addition, "officers within the department reported a matter involving surveillance of two city councilmembers: Ms. Latresa Wells and Mr. Dabouze Antoine. The pretext of the investigation centered around unsubstantiated allegations that the two were involved in voter fraud and illegal drug activities."
According to the press release, the investigation "showed that members of the now-disbanded VIPER Task Force physically followed, watched, monitored and photographed the two councilmembers. Pole-mounted cameras near homes were utilized and activities by the councilpersons were notated. In addition, their curbside garbage bins were emptied, contents collected and reviewed and, in some instances, processed as potential evidence."
However, "Based on the investigation, nothing was found to substantiate the allegations."
Both the financial issues and the surveillance were "referred to the GBI."
The News broke the story of the GBI referral regarding Akins-Wells and Antoine earlier today.
As a result of the investigations, Clark is restructuring the department. There will be two deputy chiefs of police, officers will "be rotated among duty positions more frequently to ensure officers gain a broader set of skills via cross-training," captains recently underwent "advanced leadership training," and the department promises "enhanced outreach initiatives" to build goodwill among the public.
"I am committed to addressing the findings of the audit and the investigation, and to moving the department forward," Clark said in a prepared statement. "Our officers are committed to serving the citizens and guests of Forest Park and turning this department into a world-class police agency."
Mayor Angelyne Butler, also in a prepared statement, issued an apology to both Akins-Wells and Antoine, and thanked Clark for his efforts.
"Chief Clark has complete and full support from me, the City Manager [Angela Redding] and the City Council as he continues to make much needed changes at the police department, including reassignments, changes in policy, separations of some officers, and criminal charges if necessary."
Butler added that "We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable and punished to the fullest extent of the law."
Butler said the city must rebuild "the highest-possible level of trust between the entire Forest Park community and the police department--that will be one of the highest priorities of this City Council."
More to come.