Smithville Police Chief Clemente Resigns- Makes Accusations Against City Administration

August 24, 2006
Dwayne Page

Less than six months after being named Smithville Police Chief, Agustin Clemente, Jr. has resigned, citing differences with the City Administration.

Clemente has also leveled certain allegations against both Mayor Taft Hendrixson and Secretary-Treasurer Burnace Vandergriff, which they both have denied.

Before turning in his badge Wednesday afternoon, witnesses say Chief Clemente vented his frustrations directly toward Vandergriff in a verbal display of anger, shouting obscenities and allegedly threatening physical harm to Vandergriff.

As Clemente was cleaning out his office, city officers and a county deputy were summoned to city hall as a security precaution, but there was no further incident.

In a letter addressed to Police Commissioner Aaron Meeks on Wednesday, Clemente wrote that \"with much regret, I hereby submit my resignation effective immediately as the Senior Law Enforcement Officer for the City of Smithville.\"

Clemente makes specific allegations, in the letter, accusing both Mayor Hendrixson and Vandergriff of \"inappropriately and constantly using their positions to interfere with police operations\".

However, several Smithville Police Officers, including Sergeant Steven Leffew, say Clemente became difficult to work for; that he was verbally abusive and degrading to city officers, constantly shouting and cursing at them over little things, sometimes in the presence of the public; and that he was paranoid and suspicious that others were out to get him.

Mayor Hendrixson says based on officers complaints, he met with Clemente about two to three weeks ago and warned him to stop the verbal assaults against his staff.

Officers were apparently told by Clemente that he was their supervisor, and that they should not take their concerns to either Vandergriff or to Mayor Hendrixson, and any time Clemente saw the officers talking to either of the two men, he would often become angry and would verbally reprimand them.

Such was the case on Wednesday when Clemente saw Sergeant Leffew coming out of Vandergriff's office at city hall.

According to Vandergriff, when Leffew stepped out of his office, an angry Clemente entered and began screaming and shouting at Vandergriff.

Vandergriff says he asked Clemente to calm down, but Clemente kept getting louder, until Vandergriff escorted him out of his office and into the hall.

Later that afternoon as Vandergriff was getting in his truck to leave for the day, Clemente, who was standing near the side entrance to city hall by the police station, again began shouting and cursing at Vandergriff, and allegedly threatened to whip him.

Vandergriff, who claims he had pretty much kept his cool during his previous confrontation with Clemente , decided he had heard enough and challenged Clemente to go ahead and follow through on his threat. Vandergriff says after a barrage of shouts, obscenities, and threats, Clemente instead turned and walked away.

Clemente was unavailable for comment on the incidents.

Among the allegations cited in his letter, Clemente says \" On two recent occasions, the Mayor, who also works as a 911 Dispatcher, has placed calls from the dispatch center while working there to officers on the scene of a traffic stop or investigation in an attempt to sway the officers into not ticketing a violator due to the Mayor's personal affiliation with the subject or family.\"

Mayor Hendrixson says there is no truth to Clemente's assertion. \"I have not asked any officer to do anything about a ticket and won't\".

Clemente, in his letter, writes that \" a large number of qualified police applicants have submitted their resumes to my office indicating their immediate availability for employment. I have advised the Mayor and Secretary about these qualified personnel only to have these individuals harshly rejected due to their family affiliations and religious beliefs. Recently, I was ordered by the Mayor to hire two individuals that had been fired or demoted by the Smithville Police Department and or board of alderman in the past.\"

Mayor Hendrixson denies that allegation. \"I certainly have never ordered him to hire or not to hire anyone. The officers are leaving here as fast as they are coming in and they say it's because of him.\"

Clemente, who is a Cuban-American, charges that \"the Secretary-Treasurer has continually and publicly ridiculed me using racial slurs about my heritage to other individuals. The most recent comment is that ?I am going to buy that Cuban a boat and send him back to where he came from'. While I was deeply troubled over these racially prejudiced comments, I felt my new position would be in jeopardy if I were to say anything. I have been in the presence of the Mayor when he has made similar remarks about other Smithville employees.\"

Mayor Hendrixson denies making any racial slurs about Clemente or any city employee, and Vandergriff says both he and Clemente would often engage in some good natured joking back and forth when Clemente first became chief, but that he never, and would never, intentionally humiliate him about his race.

Clemente alleges that there is \"ongoing misappropriations of drug fund finances currently being managed by the Treasurers Office\".

According to Vandergriff, all city drug funds are properly spent and accounted for. \"Money from the drug fund is supposed to be divided with the General Fund, but since there has been so little money in the drug fund, I have been leaving 100% of the money in the drug fund and there has been no misappropriation of it whatsoever. I welcome anyone to examine the records. All monies have been properly deposited and receipted.\"

In fact, Vandergriff says, most of the money spent from the drug fund lately has been at Clemente's request to purchase a certified drug dog, a truck and cage to haul it in, and for the training of an officer.\"

With Clemente's departure, the city is faced with having to name a new Police Chief, which would be it's fifth in the last three years.

Former Chief Richard Jennings, who held the position for nine years, was replaced by Jim Baker in November 2003. Nine months later in August, 2004, Baker was replaced by Sam Dunbar. In January, 2006, Dunbar resigned amid a cloud of controversy, and was replaced in March by Clemente.

Jennings, now a Lieutenant, remains with the police department and Baker, who has just resigned his position as Police Chief in Alexandria, has rejoined the Smithville Department as an officer.

No word yet on when a new Chief will be named by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

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