Racial justice advocates are asking the city of Waco to be diligent in vetting candidates for Waco police chief, especially since learning of one finalist’s connection to a controversy over the death of a Black pedestrian after a struggle with police last year.
Marcus Dudley Jr., one of five finalists and only Black candidate for the Waco police chief position, is internal affairs commander at the Aurora, Colorado, Police Department, which is under state scrutiny for the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain. McClain, who was not accused of a crime, died less than a week after after Aurora police put him in a chokehold Aug. 24 and responding paramedics injected him with a sedative to calm him down, according to Associated Press reports.
The three officers involved in the incident, which started with a suspicions person call, were suspended while Dudley’s internal affairs unit submitted a case to the local district attorney. The DA found insufficient evidence to support charges, and the officers returned to the force.
Waco’s NAACP President Peaches Henry, who has publicly advocated for an African American police chief, voiced caution to supporters after discovering information about several candidates, including Dudley, that “gives us pause.”
“Because we are actually in the process of hiring a police chief, we have the opportunity in the midst of all this social justice critique and protests, we now have an opportunity to address that given the moment we are in,” Henry said in an interview. “Now we have an opportunity to hire a person of color and so I and the members of the NAACP and other people of like mind are advocating for such a person. However, we want a person who has a clean, ethical record.
“We are still advocating for a person of color as police chief. We are somewhat concerned about what we are learning about this set of candidates that are coming forward at the moment. We think it is well within the right of the (city) council and the city manager to continue to search if they and we are not satisfied with the candidates that they are putting forth.”
In addition to Dudley, local police chief finalists include Albert “Stan” Standridge, of Abilene; Jason Lando of Pittsburgh; Patrick Gallagher of Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Richard Bash of Columbus, Ohio.
Dudley also is one of four finalists for Aurora’s police chief position.
The Tribune-Herald’s Public Information Act request Tuesday for the candidates’ police chief applications, resumes and cover letters was not fulfilled this week.
Attempts to reach Dudley by the Tribune-Herald were unsuccessful.
He spoke during a public police chief candidate forum in Aurora earlier this week about McClain’s death, which he called “tragic,” and the investigation into it. He said he sat down with McClain’s family, along with representatives of the family and victims advocates, and reviewed the police camera footage of the incident.
“We spent time reviewing the body worn camera footage because that’s what we promised,” Dudley said. “One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do is spend time with a family that is having to grieve and having to see their son in that way. It’s had a tremendous impact on our department. The members that were involved that day are still grieving. I know people want answers. I wish I could provide more answers.
“We submitted the case to the District Attorney’s office. They rendered their decision, and I can’t change that. We can continue to work moving forward looking at how we address issues, and from that point forward address some policy changes that might be able to prevent another incident like that.”
On Thursday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed the state’s Attorney General Phil Weiser to re-investigate and reconsider charges against the officers.
In Waco, Jaja Chen, a social work therapist and entrepreneur, joined friends to research the police chief finalists. Chen, a member of the NAACP and other local advocacy groups, shared her findings on social media this week in hopes of engaging community interest in the city council’s pick.
“I have no experience in law enforcement, and my background is as a private-practice therapist and social worker,” she said. “But as a citizen I want to think about what the role of a police chief should be … and we have to keep the context of our nation in mind, not only because of what is going on right now in the nation, but we also need to remember racism has been in systems since the founding of our nation. So now we have to be informed about the people who can shape our policies and our leaders serving the community.”