The Geraldine Town Hall was packed Tuesday evening as citizens and media came to see a due process hearing for Assistant Police Chief Jeff Buckles. He was placed on administrative leave earlier this month after posting a comment on Facebook that some interpreted as menacing to Democrats. The crowd left without knowing any more about his future job status after Mayor Chuck Ables announced that the hearing would be held in private, per Buckles request.
The hearing was held behind closed doors to have an independent third party produce a formal recommendation for the town council and mayor to act upon. Buckles could be re-instated, suspended for an additional length of time or face termination. He’s still on paid leave and will be until the council makes a decision. That vote could come at their next scheduled council meeting on March 3.
“It was [Officer Buckles’] choice whether it be public or private. He chose for it to be private, which obviously doesn’t include the mayor or council,” Ables said. “It’ll just be his attorney, our attorney and an independent person, an attorney, to hear anything that either side has to say. After the interview, the hearing, then the independent attorney will make a written recommendation. Not sure exactly when we’ll get that, but once we get that, then we’ll schedule another meeting to consider it and deal with it then.”
At issue was the officer’s post to his personal Facebook account after the State of the Union address, referring to the decision of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to rip up her copy of the message President Trump had just delivered. It read, “Pelosi just ripped up his [speech]. Road Side bomb on home and any other Dumbocrats.”
Within hours, Buckles’ social media post went viral with some users stating how uncomfortable the comment made them feel given Buckles position of authority as an officer, implying a strong bias against anyone who might, for example, drive through Geraldine with a bumper sticker expressing support for a Democratic candidate on their car. Others defended Buckles, saying he has a First Amendment right to vent frustrations about politics like any other citizen and wouldn’t seriously threaten Pelosi or local Democrats.
Buckles deleted his Facebook post and said, “I want to apologize for venting on FB. I have definitely offended some people with my remarks. It just rips my heart out that our great country is so divided.”
It is unknown how many of the people at Tuesday’s due process hearing were there to support him or criticize his actions since no one had an opportunity to speak either way.
“Had [the hearing] been public, Officer Buckles and the town could call witnesses to come in to the hearing they’re having. The town has not asked for any [witnesses], I don’t know if he has or not. One at a time could come in if he requested,” Ables said.
The town expects a recommendation “in the next couple of days. But that will not be made public until the council meeting, whenever that is. It is not set at this time.”
The mayor declined to say how he personally feels about the officer’s actions.
“Once we get a recommendation, it’s going to require that I vote, so I don’t really need to comment on that. I’m going into it with an open mind and will consider what the independent person says,” Ables said. “I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the State of Alabama. And we are going through the process that’s set out in the Constitution with a due-process hearing and getting all of the facts and making a decision then. I am very serious about following the oath I took to follow the Constitution.”
The mayor said Buckles absence while suspended has not affected the town’s ability to have an officer on duty around the clock. Part-time personnel have picked up the slack as needed.
As the face of Geraldine, Ables has taken much of the heat from people outraged by by Buckles Facebook comment or upset that he was suspended for saying things that many of them agree with.
“The people in the town understand better because they’ve seen what goes on and that he’s done a good job here and people understand that,” Ables said.
“I’ve heard opinions expressed from both sides. I’ve had a lot of opinions expressed that they don’t know anything about it but have an opinion anyway. I’ve listened to those and tried to be courteous to people and listen to what they have to say. I was a little surprised at how much attention we’ve gotten here in our little town. People say ‘I’m calling from so-and-so’ or sometimes they don’t say where. I got a call today, they said they were from the state of Washington and just wanted to express their opinion. I listened. I’ve had calls from, I don’t know, probably, at least identifying themselves, from at least 10 states. I got a call from Pennsylvania today. I’ve gotten calls from Texas, Virginia and North Carolina. I’ve had a lot of calls in the last few days. I’m glad to live in the United States where we can express our opinions.”