Communication Builds Our Community

Reinstatement of Police Chief Velasquez Brings Angry Response from Commissioner Williams

Velasquez Fired, Re-hired Within Week's Time

The surprise reinstatement of suspended Lake Wales Police Chief Chris Velasquez by City Manager James Slaton at the start of Tuesday's city commission meeting brought a fiery response from City Commissioner Daniel Williams, who held his thoughts through the entire meeting but launched into his angry comments hours later during a commissioner comment period.

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Lake Wales City Commissioner Daniel Williams raised an angry complaint after learning that City Manager james Slaton had reinstated fired Police Chief Chris Velasquez only days after his firing.

Slaton had announced the suspension of Velasquez only days earlier after a complaint filed by a local civil rights advocacy group. Velasquez was accused of changing, or allowing the change, of hiring qualifications for a new lieutenant within the ranks of the department to allow an additional White applicant who was ultimately hired. At least two Black candidates had already met the published requirements.

"I need everyone to know that when you see black people in the City of Lake Wales, right now, and they're frustrated, they got a reason to be frustrated," Williams said. "We can handle anything if you tell us the truth. But if it seems like you said one thing today and then certain people call and then things get changed it makes us feel like we still up under Jim Crow, and we ain't going back there!"

"You have literally today told black people that power is more, and...or color is greater in this city," Williams said. "I am extremely frustrated about how this went down."

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City Manager James Slaton reversed his decision to dismiss the city's police chief only days after telling Chris Velasquez that he would be replaced.

Williams, who is running for re-election, said he had stood by the chief despite criticism from his own Black community members, and had been called derogatory names for doing so.

"I spoke at a forum where the question was, umm, 'what's the most, what's the greatest thing dividing the city of Lake Wales?' You know what I said, I said, 'nothing.'" Williams told fellow commissioners and the audience. "I said, 'We need to improve our communication, and we need to talk a little better, and listen a little more.' After today, I believe I can't make the same statement."

The accusation by the Poor and Minority Justice Association accused Velasquez of favoritism, a charge that Slaton said created "an appearance of unfairness in the process."

"During my time as city manager I have heard repeated public concerns in two critical areas," Slaton had written in a memo to Velasquez last week, citing nepotism and "a perception of lack of transparency."

"The issues related to the recent Lieutenant promotions are consistent with public concerns in these areas, specifically," Slaton had written in his memo dismissing Velasquez, criticizing his decision to "hire one of your sergeant's daughters" for a position within the department. "It is time for new leadership to address the challenges we face," he added.

Slaton then apparently had a change of heart over the weekend, telling commissioners at the start of Tuesday's meeting that he had decided to reinstate Velasquez.

"Chief Valasquez and I met again today at my request," Slaton told the board. "There were some issues that we had to navigate our way through and that we will continue to navigate. Chief Velasquez was cooperative and here to assure that any issues that have caused concern, that have occurred in the past, will not be repeated in the future."

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Police Chief Chris Velasquez has been reinstated, but the swift turn of events has left Commissioner Daniel Williams angry with the lack of transparency in the process.

"I supported the chief since day one," Williams said in his statement at the end of the meeting. "I supported him in such a fashion that I've been called Uncle Tom...umm, I can't even say the other word...umm, because I have not seen him do anything that I believed to be unethical, and definitely not anything illegal. I spoke to the chief personally and told him about the allegations that I heard, sat down at the table with him and looked in his eyes and he said to me that, 'When the facts come out you will absolutely see that I didn't do anything wrong.'"

"I then spoke to the city manager about the conversation that I had with the chief. He told me the opposite. I told the city manager... 'I will support what you decide.' And I also told him, 'Whatever you decide, stick with it."

"And, so...to walk in here today, to find out the decision had been changed, no one spoke to me, I was extremely disappointed," Williams said.

"I supported the chief, didn't think he needed to be fired," Williams said. "I said it to everybody I seen, but when I was told he was going to be fired I stood with that as well. To now to be told something different because now they had an opportunity to talk, they had an opportunity to talk before all of this took place. It is going to make... it has made the people of color feel some kind of way... I can tell you I feel that way, " Williams said as his voice rose.

"We gotta do a better job of saying what we mean and meaning what we said. Period!" Williams added.

 

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