In a letter to Pine Bluff City Council members, attorney Othello Cross said that Assistant Police Chief Ivan Whitfield “feels he was overlooked and discriminated against because of his race” in the selection process for interim chief after former Chief Brenda Davis-Jones was fired Jan. 1 by new Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.
Retired Lt. Jeff Hubanks, a 27-year veteran, was appointed interim chief by Hollingsworth shortly after Davis-Jones’ dismissal. The actions generated some verbal criticism during a public comment period after the council’s business session in a meeting Monday night.
Whitfield is black. Hollingsworth and Hubanks are white.
Whitfield mentioned Cross’ letter in a post-meeting interview. Whitfield, who will soon mark his 30th year with the department, said the letter had been mailed to Hollingsworth and all council members “last week.” But as of Tuesday, Hollingsworth and some council members reporedly had not received their copies.
The letter, dated Dec. 4 instead of Jan. 4, stated that Whitfield — identified by Cross as “my client” — had requested “that I assist him in retrieving answers to him not being given an interview for” the interim chief post. The letter notes Whitfield’s service the past two years in his current position, reviews Davis-Jones’ firing and Hubanks’ appointment, and says “Whitfield was never notified of the new leadership.”
Cross wrote that on Jan. 2, Whitfield was “notified that interviews for the (interim chief) position had been done.”
“My client was never afforded the opportunity to interview,” the letter reads. It further states that the department’s “two top administrators … who happen to be black,” weren’t notified of Hubanks’ Jan. 2 swearing-in ceremony “until after the event was over.”
“This event was well planned and carried out in a disrespectful way,” to Whitfield, Cross maintains, adding that Whitfield “doesn’t deserve to be treated with the disrespect that has been shown to him.”
The letter listed the following questions concerning Whitfield:
• “Why wasn’t he afforded an interview?”
• “Those that were interviewed was picked by whom?”
• “Who conducted the interview?”
• “How many people were interviewed?”
• “How many blacks, whites, males, females were interviewed?”
“My client further feels that there is a witch hunt to remove him from his present position,” Cross concluded. “One of the first documents that the newly elected mayor requested was ‘what does it take to remove the assistant Chief.’”
“I always said I would be interim chief, but I don’t want to now,” Whitfield told The Commercial on Monday. “This is not about Jeff Hubanks. He and I are friends. It’s just the way everything went down.”
Hollingsworth declined comment on Cross’ letter after she was given a copy by a Commercial reporter Tuesday afternoon.
However, the mayor said that she anticipates the process of hiring a permanent chief will require at least six months.