City of Commerce Chief of Police Kerry Crews will resign and accept an administrative job with the City of Commerce, city officials announced Monday evening.
City Manager Darrek Farrell and Mayor Wyman Williams led a special city council meeting held at the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church in Commerce. About 200 people, many of them visibly or vocally present in support of Crews, attended the meeting, which was held at the church rather than in the nearby city council chambers so as to accommodate the anticipated high turnout.
Crews had been on administrative leave following a highly publicized May 20 incident that ended in the arrest of Texas A&M University-Commerce student Carmen Ponder.
Williams read a statement provided by Crews, who was not present at the meeting.
“He was unable to be here tonight as a result of some of the calls and conversations that have been somewhat threatening to him and his family,” Farrell said.
In the statement, Crews described being asked to intervene in the incident at the request of Michael Beane.
Beane made the request to Crews after becoming involved in a road-rage encounter with Ponder which happened in the parking lot of the Commerce Walmart.
“At the time, I was off-duty and finishing a shopping trip with my family,” Crews said in the statement. “It was my understanding that officers had been called, but I felt it was something that I could handle. I was wrong,” Crews said.
In the statement, Crews described himself as “unprepared” for the response he received from Ponder and that he “became emotional.”
“It had nothing to do with her race or gender, or anything other than what I felt was her disrespect of my position as an officer and as the police chief,” Crews said.
Crews also described the cumulative effective of stress over the past several years as a contributing factor in his response.
“After all that has gone on in the last few weeks, I do not feel that I can continue to bear the weight of the Police Chief position,” Crews said.
Crews will move into a role as Assistant to the City Manager, a position which had not existed previously.
“I would encourage you to join with me in supporting the City Council and the City Manager as we move into this next chapter in our story,” the statement concluded.
Monday evening’s meeting began with a presentation by attorney Julia Gannaway. The City of Commerce hired the Fort Worth-based law firm of Lynn, Ross and Gannaway to conduct an internal investigation of the incident.
Gannaway’s presentation consisted of a guided presentation of videos of the incident, including Walmart security videos, a cell phone video recorded by Commerce resident Richard Hill, and an officer body-cam video. Gannaway helped the audience follow the conversations and actions presented in the videos, but did not provide subjective analysis or commentary on the actions of Crews, Ponder, or any other participants.
The video presentation was followed by Williams’ reading of Crews’ statement and Farrell providing a brief explanation of Crews’ new role with the city. Commerce Baptist Church Senior Pastor Kris Myers was invited to close the public part of the meeting with a prayer. The meeting then ended so that the city council could break and then begin a planned executive session.
Ponder was present, along with her attorney, Dallas-based S. Lee Merritt, and a few other supporters. The party left immediately after the public portion of the meeting.
Beane, a Commerce Independent School District board member, did not appear to be present.
Ponder has accused Beane of using racist language during the incident. Ponder is African-American, while all other participants in the incident are white.
Ponder initially identified Crews as the other party in the road-rage encounter, and it was that version of the story that was shared widely online in the days immediately after the incident.
Ponder was arrested on a charge of evading detention. Hunt County later dropped the charge.
Gannaway told the city council that her investigation did not find evidence that Crews behaved with racial bias during the incident.
“It would be absolutely detrimental to the city not to have Chief Crews’ involvement,” Farrell said. Farrell characterized the change in Crews’ employment as “not a demotion in any way.”
“It’s just a lateral move to a different position, without the stress and burdens of being a police chief,” Farrell said.
The unedited videos provided by the City of Commerce: