Conflicting traffic accident reports could add a new wrinkle to the circumstances surrounding former Starkville Police Chief David Lindley's abrupt retirement.
Starkville's Board of Aldermen placed Lindley on administrative leave on Nov. 22, reportedly due to an investigation into whether the department mishandled a traffic accident involving Lindley's wife, Mississippi State University Police Chief Georgia Lindley. The board later accepted David Lindley's letter of retirement, effective Dec. 31, but has stripped him of his duties and banned him from making professional contact with SPD officers in the interim. The board also appointed former SPD Assistant Chief John Outlaw as interim chief.
The city released an accident report on Thursday morning detailing what it deemed a “hit-and-run,” in which Georgia Lindley hit a parked car on Lampkin Street in front of First United Methodist Church and drove from the scene. According to the report, which City Clerk Taylor Adams released to Starkville Daily News in response to an open records request, the accident occurred just after noon on Nov. 16. The report also says a witness traveling behind Georgia Lindley's westbound 2003 Jeep Laredo saw Lindley's vehicle drifting in and out of its lane before striking the parked and unattended 2013 Cadillac CTS. Two witnesses saw the accident, according to the report, and observed Georgia Lindley continue driving to her home at 309 Greensboro St. Both vehicles sustained minor damage.
The report also indicates David Lindley obtained his wife's driver and insurance information upon learning of the accident. Georgia Lindley did not receive a citation in the accident.
Outlaw would not issue further details of SPD's investigation, other than to say the city had closed it. He did allude, however, to the possibility the matter wasn't entirely closed.
“Even though our investigation is concluded, there may be other things working in the wings,” Outlaw said. “We have done what we're supposed to do, and we hope to go forward and continue to be one of the best departments in the state.”
Yet, another report of the same accident tells a slightly different story about the specifics. According to that report, which SDN obtained from another source, Georgia Lindley told police that she did not realize she had hit the parked car. That report did not indicate any swerving, it listed no witnesses and it did not deem the incident a “hit-and-run.”
The two reports also conflict on the investigating and signing officers. SPD Master Sgt. Shawn Word signed off on the report the city released on Thursday, and it lists him as the investigating officer. The other report lists Officer Joshua Buckner in those capacities.
On Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen moved to accept disciplinary terms for Word at Outlaw's request. Neither the board nor Outlaw has addressed the reasons or scope of the discipline or whether it was related to the investigation. Word is still listed as an active SPD employee, but Outlaw would not comment on whether he had placed the officer on leave. City Personnel Officer Randy Boyd said Thursday an employee could be listed as active while on either paid or unpaid leave, but he wouldn't comment further on Word's status.
Outlaw said typically an officer would cite a driver identified as committing a hit-and-run, but that was ultimately left to the officer's discretion. He said employee discipline “comes with the job” of an administrator.
David Lindley said Thursday was the first time he had seen the publicly-released report, adding that Buckner's was the report that was originally filed. He said neither he nor his wife had denied Georgia was involved in the accident or that she was at fault.
Further, he asserted that after both he and Georgia cooperated with officers as they gathered information for the report, he did not interfere with officers compiling the report or try to sway its outcome. He said he saw a copy of what he assumed was the filed report on his desk on Nov. 18, but he neither suggested nor ordered any changes. That, he said, could have been a mistake.
“If any mistake is made in an accident report or in anything in the police department, when you're the chief, it's your responsibility,” he said. “As chief, you have to hold yourself to a level of accountability that is a far higher standard than that of an average officer. The question here is whether this should have been listed as a hit-and-run on the original report. Obviously, hindsight is 20-20, and in retrospect, I should have ordered them to change the report (to reflect a hit-and-run). I did not. And as police chief at the time, I take full responsibility.”
The reason he said he didn't order the change was because there was only minor vehicle damage and no finding of an obvious attempt to leave the scene.
Georgia Lindley could not be contacted by the posting of this report. However MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter issued a statement via email in response to whether she was under MSU investigation.
“Mississippi State University is aware that the City of Starkville received a complaint regarding a traffic accident involving a university employee,” the statement read. “To our knowledge, the incident was not related to the employee’s job duties at MSU. Therefore, MSU has no substantive basis for any comment on this matter at this time.”
David Lindley worked for SPD for 38 years, serving more than a decade as chief. He said he plans to enjoy his retirement and complimented what he called a sound, well-trained and professional team at SPD.
“Any organization such as a police department is like a bucket of water,” he said. “You can put your hand in and pull your hand out, and it's still a bucket of water. Executives change, but police departments remain. It's been my privilege to work with some of the finest men and women I could have ever hoped to serve with. I wish them nthing but success and the best of luck.”
Outlaw said the Lindley issue remained a distraction, but he expected it to subside over time.
“It's probably, I would say, about 75 percent,” Outlaw said. “Anytime anything happens like this, it's a distraction for a while. Then officers get back into their routine and what they need to do.”