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Awards ceremony planned for MPD officers canceled

MADISON – Madison Mayor Paul and Finley and Police Chief David Jernigan issued public statements Sunday night and Monday regarding an awards ceremony planned for the officers who responded to last year’s officer-involving shooting death of Dana Fletcher.

“Following reports of an officer ceremony last week, Mayor Finley and I immediately decided timing is not optimal, and we have put the ceremony on hold,” Chief Jernigan said Sunday night. “The officers involved in this incident displayed bravery in defending themselves, other officers and the public at Planet Fitness last fall which was validated following the Madison County District Attorney’s official report presented to the community on November 15, 2019.”

A statement followed from Mayor Finley on Monday.

“On Friday, I was approached by an AL.com reporter after our noon COVID update and asked about an email that Chief Jernigan had sent out Thursday afternoon regarding an in-house ceremony on Tuesday concerning the above mentioned awards. I explained I was aware of the awards but not of the magnitude the ceremony mentioned in the email,” Finley stated. “Upon leaving I immediately investigated what I had learned and in turn realized the difference in what I had expected and what was planned. We immediately canceled the ceremony with Chief sending out another internal email at 3:30 Friday afternoon.

“My responsibility as Mayor is to manage better. We were ill advised and ill-timed and I apologize to our community,” Finley added.

Fletcher was killed Oct. 27 by a Madison Police officer at Planet Fitness in Madison. Officers were responding to a 911 call into the Madison Police Department about a suspicious van parked outside Planet Fitness in Madison. The caller, a Planet Fitness employee, said the occupants were asking “weird questions” and taking photos of employees in Planet Fitness.

During a confrontation between Fletcher and police officers, Fletcher was shot and killed. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney investigated the incident and said officers were justified in the shooting. They said video evidence showed Fletcher had a gun at the time pointed at an officer.

Members of the Fletcher family have since disputed the DA’s finding and have called the full police body-cam video to be released.

“Each time an individual or group comes to see me concerning the Dana Fletcher situation looking for more information we ask them if they have viewed the full District Attorney’s out brief on November 15th,” Finley said. “They presented that our officers acted in self-defense and show both still pictures and video. I would ask if you have not taken the time to watch the full press conference that you please do, you can find it on any of our local media’s website. Since that time the City of Madison has received three Notice of Claims from the Fletcher family, each for $100,000,000. Thus, the City has and will continue to stand by the District Attorney’s presentation.”

Madison City Council, District 4, candidate Jocelyn Broer quickly responded to the controversy by questioning the decision to hold an awards ceremony.

“While there is still much that we do not know about the nature of the awards and the events that took place last October, we do know that a family was torn apart and many in our community lost trust in our law enforcement officers,” said Broer. “Planning to present awards to these individuals behind closed doors further undermines the transparency that needs to occur on the outcomes and decisions that affect our community.”

Marc Highsmith, who is running for mayor, responded late Monday in a statement criticizing Mayor Finley, Chief Jernigan and the city council for not releasing the full body-cam video, audio recording and 911 calls from the Oct. 27 incident. He said planning to award the officers involved the department’s “medal of honor” only makes things worse.

“I am glad to hear that the event is on hold,” Highsmith said. “I recommend that the postponement continue until the issues concerning this case are resolved. Also, by planning a ‘private ceremony’ closed to the public and the press, city officials have shown disregard for transparency and accountability.”

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