Answers slow in Montevallo police shake-up

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An internal investigation of the city&8217;s police department is essentially finished, officials say, but Montevallo&8217;s mayor and acting police chief still aren&8217;t talking about the circumstances that led to the resignation of former chief Steve Southerland and the firing of night patrol supervisor Hardy Cook.

&8220;Montevallo is no longer involved in the investigation,&8221; said Mayor Sharon Anderson.

City officials have remained tight-lipped about the police department probe, which they say has been turned over to the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.

City Attorney Steve Sears confirmed that at least part of the investigation relates to the sale of impounded vehicles, according to media reports. But the Montevallo city council has not publicly discussed its motivation for a series of department-related actions beginning in November.

The council placed Southerland and Cook on administrative leave with pay on Nov. 10, citing no specific reasons for the move.

Mayor Sharon Anderson said in an interview early this week that the two were placed on leave &8220;to ensure the integrity of an ongoing internal investigation.&8221;

Southerland resigned 20 days after being placed on leave.

The Montevallo City Council went into executive session during a special called meeting on Jan. 4, returning 30 minutes later to fire Cook in a unanimous decision.

Cook is a Democratic candidate for Sheriff in Chilton County, where he faces charges on two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

Two certificates of title to automobiles impounded by the Montevallo Police Department are held in the cases against Cook, according to Chilton County District Attorney Randall Houston.

Cook remains out of jail on $10,000 bond, awaiting his April 19 preliminary hearing.

Tom Smitherman, Montevallo&8217;s acting police chief and head of the department&8217;s internal investigation, asked the council on Dec. 12 to repeal a section of city code relating to the impounding of vehicles.

The council granted his request, voting to return city policy to a stricter version of the Safe Streets Act.

Despite the cloud of suspicion, Anderson said she is optimistic about the future of the Montevallo Police Department.

&8220;We feel like we are in very good condition and very stable,&8221; Anderson said.

Calera Police Sgt. Kevin Mark Peters was hired as Montevallo&8217;s new police chief and will officially take over the position on Monday.

&8220;We feel very confident that he is going to do a wonderful job,&8221; Anderson said