Jury: Tupelo owes police officer $300,000

Published 12:24 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A white captain was forced out of the Tupelo Police Department because he spoke out for a black deputy chief who later pleaded guilty and resigned, and the city owes him $300,000, a federal jury has found.

The jury found that the city should pay former Capt. Cliff Hardy $100,000 for lost wages and $200,000 for mental anguish.

“I feel vindicated and I’m happy the truth finally got to come out,” Hardy said after the verdict Friday.

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City attorney John Hill says an appeal seems likely.

“While we respect the verdict, we also believe the chief made a decision that he believed was in the best interests of Tupelo Police Department,” he said.

Hardy’s friend and superior, Robert Hall, was under criminal investigation when Hardy told about 120 people at a public forum in October 2006 that he believed racism was behind what he called persecution of Hall.

Chief Harold Chaffin removed Hardy, a 19-year veteran, as internal affairs officer within days; five months later, he was stripped of other considerable duties and given a job answering apartment calls.

City attorneys argued that Hardy’s comments were reckless and false, eliminating any First Amendment free-speech protection.

Chaffin and others testified that Hardy was given the apartment job because he had worked with apartment managers in a crime-prevention program.

Hall was being investigated for releasing a drunk driver — the son of church friends of Hall’s — who had hit a child. He was indicted on felony charges including obstruction of justice. He resigned after pleading guilty to misdemeanors and now heads security at Toyota’s Blue Springs plant.

He testified for Hardy and praised him after the verdict as a “big brother.”

“He put his career, his family, everything on the line for me,” Hall said. “We have been waiting for this day for a long time.”