WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — A West Memphis Police major who told female employees they needed a “spanking” has returned to active duty, according to documents obtained by WREG in a Freedom of Information Act request.
The documents showed the city hired Memphis-based attorney Florence Johnson to look into complaints against two West Memphis Police Department employees, Maj. Stacy Allen and Lt. Charles Burch.
The complaints against Allen by female law enforcement officers and dispatchers included allegations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation.
The independent report called Allen’s behavior “longstanding,” dating back to 2017 or earlier. It detailed situations where Allen would practice verbal abuse by telling a black female dispatcher she “should not be married to a white man,” asking women at work who they were dating and suggesting they “needed ‘spanking.'”
“Major Allen appears to have engaged in a pattern and practice of treating female employees in a manner that subjects them to unequal terms and conditions of employment when compared to male colleagues,” the report stated.
According to the document, when employees reported the behavior, “nothing happened” to Allen. Instead, he’d threaten them with discipline: “Major Allen made statements aloud in the Department that he wanted the ‘badge numbers’ of anyone officer that spoke out about or against him,” the report stated.
According to the investigator, Allen would also sometimes go to the homes of those who complained about him: “Allen has… been known to frequent the residences of employees, to follow them outside of the workplace while shopping in West Memphis and then make it known to them that he knew where they were.”
The report stated some witnesses had quit the department as a result.
WREG presented the report’s findings to Bennie Cobb, a retired captain from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office who served time in internal affairs and now works as a criminal justice consultant.
“The best thing is that they retained outside attorney,” Cobb said.
Cobb said the report showed the investigator substantiated claims of discrimination and harassment.
“It did. The investigator provided a thorough summary,” Cobb said.
In fact, independent investigator Florence Johnson wrote, “all interviewees substantiated complaints of sexual harassment or gender discrimination against Major Allen.”
Mayor: ‘I don’t believe Stacy Allen sexually harassed anyone’
But in a statement released by Mayor Marco McClendon to WREG, he wrote, “no complaint was individually substantiated against Allen.”
WREG asked McClendon why he wrote that, especially because it’s up to him how Allen is disciplined.
“When we sat down and talked to [Johnson] she told me the report did not substantiate and say this is what happened,” McClendon said.
He reiterated he did not believe Johnson’s investigation substantiated the claims.
“No I don’t believe Stacy Allen sexually harassed anyone,” McClendon said.
When we asked if it’s harassment to tell a female coworker she needs a spanking, he said, “You asking me about things that was not addressed to me.”
Though McClendon said he had read the report, it became clear he hadn’t. Two hours after we spoke with the mayor, West Memphis public information officer Nick Coulter called and confirmed McClendon had only spoken with the investigator before making recommendations for discipline. According to Coulter, the Mayor did not read Johnson’s report until after WREG asked him questions about it.
According to Cobb, a full understanding of the investigation results is paramount for the mayor.
“It’s very important. He has to file a ‘say so,’ his administration, so the buck stops there,” Cobb said.
McClendon later called to clarify he followed the independent attorney’s verbal advice for how to discipline Allen. In the report, the investigator acknowledged the mayor had final say as to employee discipline, but wrote, “if Major Allen is returned to work employees are concerned for their own personal safety.”
‘Commanders are supposed to know better’
According to the performance improvement plan obtained by WREG, the police chief and West Memphis human resources decided Allen could return to work for a 90-day probationary period. During that period, he would not be allowed to supervise dispatchers or discipline officers. He’d also serve a five-day suspension without pay.
“I think those actions are more than appropriate as disciplinary action,” Cobb said.
But Cobb saw a problem with the plan, based on his years in law enforcement.
“I didn’t see any reduction in rank or reduction in pay,” he said. “Commanders are supposed to know better, set standards. First thing I would’ve looked for would be a reduction in rank.”
In fact, given the way the chain of command works, Allen, a major, would be a leader in the WMPD. According to the independent report, the department has lost staff due to his behavior.
The investigator noted they have “a herculean task to rebuild morale.”
McClendon said he couldn’t answer why previous administrations handled the complaints the way they did but he started looking into them as soon as he took office in January 2019.
He also said they made changes to the city’s HR complaint process.
“Yes, the city council has been a part too. We have looked at policies and procedures, how they go,” McClendon said. “Now I have an open-door policy for any of my employees, for any action like that. Come to my office and if it is substantiated and proven then I will take the appropriate action.”
The mayor also hired a new police chief to replace Eddie West, who retired. At Chief Michael Pope’s first press conference, WREG asked him about the changes he wanted to make.
“Transparency,” Pope said. “I think it’s an opportunity for me to make changes to the police department before mandates come down from the federal government.”
In fact, Cobb also predicted the federal government would get involved.
“Regardless of outcome as far as disciplinary action, I could see a federal lawsuit coming soon,” Cobb said.
WREG contacted Allen multiple times for a response to the allegations but so far, he has not responded to our requests.
The report also focused on allegations against a second WMPD employee, Lt. Charles Burch, which WREG will explain Tuesday at 5 p.m.