Politics & Government

Fired Latta police chief considers legal action

BY JESSICA IMBIMBO

Florence Morning News

Former Latta Police Chief Crystal Moore
Former Latta Police Chief Crystal Moore AP

Former Latta Police Chief Crystal Moore plans to pursue legal action against the town of Latta for claims of discrimination and retaliation after being fired Thursday.

Moore's lawyer, Malissa Burnette, said Moore "was properly performing her duties" as chief prior to her suspension on Aug. 22 and eventual termination. Moore declined to comment on the pending case but did say she still intends to run for the Dillon County sheriff's seat in the coming election.

Town Administrator Jarret Taylor said there have been continuing issues in Latta, including low morale within the police department. Taylor said he has addressed these issues with Moore on multiple occasions.

"I have told her (Moore) in the past that its unacceptable to maintain low levels of morale," Taylor said. "Recent events have only further eroded moral. This is a situation where town council was tired of the status quo in Latta. We want better for our employees and citizens and this was a step that was needed."

Moore was fired Thursday night just a few days after her return from a five-day suspension. This was the second time Moore has been fired from her position as chief in two years. In 2014, Moore was determined to have been wrongfully terminated by Mayor Earl Bullard because she is gay and was reinstated shortly after.

According to a report from the Associated Press, Moore's suspension in late August stemmed from multiple disciplinary reprimands including failing to inform supervisors of a sexual harassment claim, revealing an officer's salary at a public meeting and other issues that arose over the course of a few weeks.

Burnette said Taylor only issued the reprimands as a way to divert attention from himself. Burnette said Taylor "failed to adhere to law and policy" when a female town employee told Taylor that another town employee under his supervision was sexually harassing her.

The woman then approached Moore and asked to file a criminal report against her harasser. According to Burnette's statement, Moore passed the case along to a county deputy to avoid a conflict of interest because the alleged harasser was related to Moore by marriage.

Burnette said Moore tried to contact Taylor about the female victim, twice in a phone call and once via text message on Aug. 12. Taylor responded the following day asking for details and requesting that Moore issue a statement about the alleged harasser, according to Burnette.

"Taylor asked Chief Moore to write a statement that the perpetrator had no 'ill intent' with his actions," Burnette said. "Chief Moore declined. Taylor then retaliated by issuing a written reprimand to which he attached a one-page narrative misstating the facts and implying that he had no prior knowledge of the sexual harassment of the young woman."

When it comes to the accusations of issuing the reprimands as a means of retaliation, Taylor said nothing could be further from the truth.

"I have no ill will for her (Moore)," Taylor said. "It's a culmination of poor choices that the chief has made over the past several months."

Taylor, who quickly defended Moore when she was fired by Mayor Bullard because of her sexual orientation two years ago, said the decision to fire her Thursday was difficult.

"I was a vocal proponent for Crystal back when everything happened with the mayor," Taylor said. "I stood up for Crystal the most. This has not been very easy for me.

"Myself and council just feel at this point Crystal Moore is not what’s best for Latta."

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