Tallahassee officials host dueling press conferences about police drug policy

A city police officer tested positive for methamphetamines but wasn't fired, claiming an accidental taking of a family member's ADHD medicine.

Tallahassee City Hall

Tallahassee City Hall Creative Commons

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey and the City Commission’s progressive faction each hosted separate press conferences Monday centered on the media storm over a controversial decision to not fire a Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) officer who failed a drug test.

The first was hosted by Tallahassee community leaders and the commission’s two progressive members, Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter. They condemned the actions of City Manager Reese Goad and Police Chief Lawrence Revell after Revell retained an officer that tested positive for methamphetamines while Goad and others backed the decision. The conflict comes as the City Commission is set to approve the next police union collective bargaining agreement that includes language used to keep the officer on the force.

Revell allowed the officer to remain with TPD after the officer claimed the test results stemmed from his accidentally taking a family member’s Adderall pill, a controlled substance used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and containing "mixed amphetamine salts."

The chief pointed to the opinion of a medical examiner and a stipulation in the Police Benevolent Association’s agreement with the city that says discipline for consuming a drug that is not illegal but is against city policy can include a “disciplinary action up to and including termination.” At the same time, city policy demands the termination of any employee that tests positive for illicit substances or legal substances that someone doesn’t have a prescription for.

Matlow said he was shocked that the officer’s explanation wasn’t verified. And Lee Johnson, pastor of Loved By Jesus Church, said the handling of the incident is not consistent because other city workers would not be able to use a similar excuse to avoid punishment: “If you test positive, you should have to suffer the same consequences as your peers or as other citizens.”

Dailey later Monday held his own news conference, saying he supported the chief’s decision because a state board reviewed the decision and also supported it. He did not name the specific board that conducted the review, or when the review took place.

The differing perspectives of Dailey and Matlow highlight the divide between two factions on the city commission. Matlow and Porter form the progressive minority of the commission, while Dailey and Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox and Curtis Richardson form the majority. The three have received the backing of Tallahassee’s business community during their respective election cycles, as well as support from the Police Benevolent Association.

The commission is set to vote this Wednesday on a new collective bargaining agreement that would keep the provision that allowed Revell to keep the officer on the force. Matlow said he would not support the agreement if that language remained, and he placed the blame for the situation on Goad, who he has frequently criticized since taking office in 2018. Dailey supports keeping it, arguing that it gives law enforcement agency heads the ability to make hiring and firing decisions. 

Matlow told City & State he would be making a motion to revoke the language: “We will definitely vote at Wednesday's meeting on whether we want to allow drug use in the Tallahassee Police Department.”

Also, the employee who recommended to city management that the officer be terminated was herself fired just days after a contentious commission meeting, in which there was heated discussion about the officer. That employee, former city human resources director Ellen Blair, has claimed the firing was retaliation. Dailey said the timing of her firing wasn’t the best but supported Goad’s decision to fire her, saying there was “a long standing issue that needed to be addressed and he decided to address it.”

Dot Inman-Johnson, the first Black female mayor of Tallahassee, said she asked Richardson whether fairness and equal standards would be applied to all city employees. She said he responded that he didn’t have control over that. She disagrees: “He has no control over what happens below the city manager, but he has control over whether or not the city manager is following the charter and following the policies of our government. And I expect them to do that.”

Contact Tristan Wood at twood@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @TristanDWood

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