Citizens voice concerns about Columbus police chief & city manager

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 4:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - A heated city council meeting Tuesday night in the Fountain City.

Several people took a stand, approaching city leaders to speak about the future of the Columbus Police Department.

This comes as Police Chief Freddie Blackmon has been in the middle of controversy surrounding his leadership for more than a year following several assessments: both privately and publicly funded.

Eight people spoke in support of Blackmon, with a few on the agenda to speak in opposition, but they did not show up.

News Leader 9′s Ashlee Williams caught up with Columbus native Alton Russell, who had a business endeavor to take care of at the same time of the meeting.

“We will never know the real truth about what’s going on in the police department, but what I’m hearing, it’s not good,” said Russell.

Columbus Police Chief Freddie Blackmon is approaching his third year in the top cop position, appointed by Mayor Skip Henderson and 10 city councilors in 2020.

Fast forward to today: The group is offering Blackmon a severance package, paid for by Columbus citizens, to retire by April 5th. If he does not accept the $250,000 payout plus other incentives, it would give Blackmon the right to seek to sue the city.

“If he accepts that package, I think he’d be well off to do it,” expressed Russell. “Why would you want to work for someone who doesn’t want you to work for them?”

A consistent theme in Tuesday night’s council meeting: Blackmon is under fire because of his race.

“Here we are today, with you making a decision for us, about one of us, without us, and I’m speaking of Police Chief Freddie Blackmon,” said Columbus NAACP President Wane Hailes.

It’s a position also stated by Chief Blackmon in an interview with WTVM last week.

“... in the previous chief of police, were not handled the same way with me, and our race is different,” explained Blackmon.

Sarah Smith of Columbus was also at the meeting Tuesday.

“I don’t believe we’re pinning the right blame on the right person,” said Smith. “I think we need to keep asking questions. I don’t think that should eliminate the current police chief. I do want to see funding: where that’s going.”

There was a rally in support of Chief Blackmon before Tuesday’s meeting, and the chief was one of the dozens in attendance. It was spearheaded by Marvin Broadwater Sr. of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Records show City Manager Isaiah Hugley has had close affiliations with the organization for years.

Russell believes the connection creates a conflict on interest.

“See, if that’s not a direct conflict of interest, I don’t know what is,” said Russell. “I don’t understand why the city manager is allowing himself to be involved in something that basically is disproving or attacking the people he works for.”

Additionally, Smith told us that her research shows that the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office assumes duties that Blackmon is being attacked for.

“Blame is trying the be placed on the police chief for reasons I don’t know,” explained Smith. “The police chief is getting thrusted, blame and responsibilities that he is not really responsible for.”

The City Manager’s Office sent me a statement in response to Hugley’s affiliation with the fraternity that headed up the rally.

It reads as follows:

Though I stand with and support Police Chief Freddie Blackmon and I am a proud financially active member of the greatest fraternity in the world, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. - Lambda Iota Chapter, I had no involvement in the rally in any way.

Stay with WTVM News Leader 9 as this story develops.