Tarrant Mayor Wayman Newton has put the city's police chief on administrative leave and filed a complaint in court following a shootout on Interstate 59.
Newton said a vehicle involved in the shootout was stolen from Tarrant and that personnel drama led to the owner of the car taking matters into her own hands. He said that, along with the death of a child that he feels was not thoroughly investigated, is why he had to make a move.
This is the second time Police Chief Wendell Major has been put on administrative leave this year. The first time was in April following an incident with the mayor over a domestic violence suspect.
Newton said this time is because Major removed dispatcher access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Police departments use the NCIC to enter information that needs to be shared with other jurisdictions, such as stolen vehicles, warrants and missing persons.
According to a police report, an officer responded to a stolen vehicle on November 10. The victim said she was getting groceries from her vehicle when "a couple of unknown males entered the vehicle and drove off."
The officer responding to the call said the information could not be entered "due to the dispatchers not having NCIC access."
Newton believes Major removed dispatcher access to the national database because the mayor recently restructured dispatchers to answer to the fire chief instead of the police chief. Newton said he made the change after receiving a racial and gender discrimination complaint by a dispatcher.
Major told 1819 News that the complaint came after he was sent a video of what appeared to be a city employee attacking a child.
"Shedding light on the fact that the allegations emanate from the Police Department's investigation of a child abuse complaint reported to him by a video technician forms a robust defense," Major added. "I, in my capacity as a mandatory reporter of child abuse, acted in strict accordance with legal obligations to safeguard children and ensure community safety. My unwavering commitment to upholding the law and acting responsibly in the face of potential harm to children does not equate to Employee discrimination."
However, since dispatch did not have access to NCIC, Newton said the officers could not enter the stolen car from November 10 into the system so that other jurisdictions would be alerted to it. That led to the owner of the car following it into Birmingham, where the shootout occurred.
"This is serious," Newton told 1819 News. "Not only did he put the citizens of Tarrant in jeopardy, but he put all the lives on I-59 in jeopardy."
According to court filings, emails were exchanged between Major, Newton, police officers and dispatchers asking to reestablish access to NCIC.
Newton said dispatch has since been given access to NCIC, but it took a judge to order Major to reestablish access. Major said the judge's order put dispatchers back under the police department.
"The recent order by Judge Ballard unequivocally dismisses any notion of my dereliction of duty leading to the loss of NCIC access for dispatchers," Major said. "The judge's explicit directive to Mayor Newton to return dispatchers to the police department serves as a resounding affirmation that I was not responsible for the NCIC access issue. This incident emphasizes the necessity for Mayor Newton to grasp the intricacies of police procedures before making impactful decisions that affect law enforcement operations."
Major said publicly that giving access to NCIC to the fire chief would have been a felony because certification is required for access.
Newton added that he believes the death of a toddler should have been investigated more thoroughly after methamphetamine and fentanyl were found in her system. He went on to say the parents of the child should have been interviewed, and he blamed the police chief for an inadequate investigation.
Major responded by saying claims by Newton are "bizarre" and that Newton has a "lack of understanding of a fundamental principle of law enforcement." He said claims Newton made that he has been underreporting homicide cases are an example of his lack of understanding of how police handle cases. Major once again alluded to a possible instability issue with the mayor's mental capacity.
"Sane people understand determining the nature of deaths falls outside the purview of the duties of the Chief of Police," Major said in a statement. "The mayor's actions appear irrational. I am perplexed as to why, instead of acknowledging and celebrating the absence of any homicides in the city of Tarrant for over two years, Mayor Newton seems to be fixated on an imagined scenario of homicide."
"I don't have a mental issue," Newton told 1819 News in response to the claims by Major.
Major maintains the claims against him are baseless.
"In conclusion, my position on the NCIC access issue was vindicated by the court ruling, and I staunchly refute and will hold the mayor responsible for the groundless allegations made against me," Major continued. "The court's decision to return dispatchers to the police department, based on ALEA policy and the undeniable fact that the coroner's role in determining the cause of death, solidly supports my position. My unwavering dedication to law and order, coupled with strict adherence to legal obligations, is my defense against the baseless accusations levied by Mayor Newton."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.