City native fired as police chief in N.D.

Former area law enforcement officer let go amid charges of racism, aggressive policing

December 11, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

Baltimore native Steven L. Jones, whose brief tenure as police chief of a small town in North Dakota was marred by allegations of aggressive policing and racism, has been fired.

Larimore Mayor Marvin Denault gave Jones his walking papers Friday, saying he brought too much "negativity" to the town, according to Jones. Denault could not be reached for comment.

"I am very much disappointed," Jones said from his home in Govans yesterday. "I've been working 40 years and never been terminated. Never. It's kind of hard to swallow that you lose your job for doing your job."

Jones, 50, began working in Larimore in August and almost immediately was criticized by some townspeople who complained he ticketed people for such mundane offenses as jaywalking or leaving car engines running unattended - infractions that generally went unpunished before Jones' arrival in the farming town of 1,400.

Previously, Jones had been a corporal with Maryland Natural Resources Police, an instructor with the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions, a deputy sheriff in Cecil County and a detective for the Department of Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In October, hundreds of Larimore residents attended a meeting in the high school gymnasium to gripe about Jones, many asking Denault to fire him. Denault said then that he supported Jones.

His strict adherence to the law was not the reason many townspeople were unhappy with him, Jones said. Instead, Jones said, he was singled out because he is African-American. During a traffic stop, one woman threatened to have his "black [expletive] run out of town," he said.

"It's definitely racial," Jones said yesterday of his firing. "I haven't broken any laws, and I'm doing what you paid me to do."

The turmoil over Jones reached a fever pitch Dec. 1, when a 56-year-old Grand Forks, N.D., man repeatedly rammed his sport utility vehicle into Jones' police car. Kevin Cooper has been charged with attempted murder, according to news reports.

"He heard that I was a bad policeman, and he came to try to rid the town of me," said Jones, who was unhurt in the incident. Jones also said he received an anonymous call at police headquarters after the ramming incident in which he was told there was a plan to "shoot me in an alley."

Still, Jones said he wanted to stay on as chief.

"I was a little bit more cautious," Jones said. "I didn't want them to see they had totally shaken me. I still wanted them to know they had a police chief still walking the beat."

The mayor has appointed Larimore's only other police officer - Jeremy Hanson - as chief. Hanson, who is 28 and has been on Larimore's force for three months, said he was initially excited to work with Jones because of his wealth of experience, "but things kind of dwindled towards the end," he said.

"He has law enforcement experience on the East Coast and was bringing that to North Dakota," Hanson said. "The folks here are good people. I mean, talk to the people here before you give them a citation. They want to see that law enforcement is working with the community and not against them."

After his firing from the $37,000-a-year job, Jones said, he hopped in his fire engine-red Camaro and drove the 22 hours back to Baltimore. The long drive, he said, gave him time to reflect.

"Small towns are just not for me," Jones said. "It's entirely too much politics, and they might say they want enforcement, but they basically want a security guard."

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