Pembroke’s city council named Bryan County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Mark Crowe as the town’s new police chief at a called meeting Monday night.
Crowe will be sworn in on May 4 and begin duties as police chief on May 5, according to Pembroke Mayor Judy Cook.
The appointment was made despite protests from a number of people concerned about Crowe’s involvement in an incident last week in which five black North Bryan residents were arrested, including an 81-year-old grandmother, Henrietta Williams of Beulah Church Road.
Williams was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement officer. Also arrested were Laquana Benjiman, of Statesboro, Brian Jamar Williams of Beulah Church Road and Dwayne Jermaine Williams of Beulah Church Road.
They were arrested in connection with an incident involving Crowe, another Bryan County Sheriff’s Deputy, Pembroke Police Officer Cleve White and Tommy Williams, who allegedly got into a fight on April 14 with Crowe that escalated and led to the involvement of the other officers.Williams was reportedly tazed at least twice and hit in the head with a baton during the incident. He also struck the officers, according to authorities.
Williams’ cousin, Janice Dixon, said he received 59 stitches and other injuries as a result of the fight. Three officers also suffered minor injuries, authorities said.
About 30 people attend Monday’s called meeting announcing Crowe’s appointment, and as Cook exited the crowded meeting room in city hall, Reverend Liston Singletary, president of the Liberty County chapter of NAACP, asked her to hear concerns about the decision.
Cook said she would be more than happy to discuss it with Pembroke residents, but said "I’m not going to get into any altercation of any kind."
Singletary asked, "Why would there be an altercation, because we’re black folks?"
Cook’s one word response was a yelled out,"Sir!"
Singletary said the crowd deserved a response.
"You have an audience of people here," he said, "and you’re walking out like they don’t even matter."
About the 81-year-old grandmother, he asked, "What threat does she pose to anyone in society?" You will hear from the NAACP. I can guarantee you that," he said.
After the meeting, protestors, including the Reverend Francys Johnson of Pembroke’s Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, gathered on the front lawn of city hall.
"The police chief is a position of trust, not just a job, Johnson said. "It’s as much a position of trust as it is anything else. Whoever is going to hold that position needs to have the trust of the whole community and that trust is divided right now."
The protesters, Dave Williams of the Bryan County NAACP among them, said an investigation into the April 14 incident shoudl have been made before Crowe was named chief.
"They still made him chief even though they are fully aware of all the controversy surrounding him," Williams said. "They decided it just didn’t matter, and they were going to make him the chief."
There will be no formal investigation by the Bryan County Sheriff's Department, according to Sheriff Clyde Smith.
"The incident was investigated by the officers," Smith said. "It was law enforcement. They chose to resist."
Smith said he believes Crowe will be great in the appointed position and hated losing him as a part of the sheriff’s department.
"Mark is a good man," Smith said. "He’s a life-long resident and a good officer. He does a good job wherever he is."
Smith also said the 81-year-old woman was alleged to have been hitting people with a "mop handle, broom stick, or stick of some kind," during the incident, which is what led to her arrest.
Crowe said he looks forward to the position, but declined further comment until the swearing in on May 4. He said county attorneys have advised him to not talk about the incident last week.
"In the end," Crowe said, "the truth will come out when we go to court."
Meanwhile, the mayor stands behind the decision to hire Crowe and said until there are charges rather than allegations, he has the city's full support.
Cook said the incident last week was not a factor in the council's decision.
"That has nothing to do with us," she said. "To my knowledge, no charges have been brought."
Cook said she had spoken with people, including a Pembroke police officer, about the incident and remained confident in the decision.
"If they want to come talk to me, I will talk to them. I have an open door policy," Cook said. "They have until May 4. If they can show me something he’s done illegally, then we might readdress it."
Henrietta Williams’ family said she was unable to comment due to illness caused by the stress of the situation.