Following flurry of claims, Center Police Chief David Ray addresses issues raised in petition to see him removed

Amid the buzz surrounding a series of allegations brought forth by a local resident during the Board of Aldermen’s Jan. 4 meeting, Center’s police chief addressed each of the claims.

Center Police Chief David Ray sat at his desk for a Courier-Post interview Tuesday, Jan. 10, sharing documents and reports that refuted claims brought up by Center resident Aaron Jackson — who listed allegations in a petition that has not yet been filed at Center Town Hall. Ray, who first joined the department in 2008, talked about each of those claims.

Nepotism

Ray noted that he and City Clerk Tracey Ray were “just acquaintances” during his initial commission in 2008 and his recommissioning in November 2013. David and Tracey Ray are married, which Ray pointed out is not an uncommon occurrence in other area city governments. Also, a Center ordinance prohibits relatives working together if they are under the same supervisor or if one relative takes the role of supervisor over the other person. Ray emphasized that his wife had no bearing whatsoever on his hiring as police chief, and their jobs are completely independent from one another.

“She and I care about our jobs,” Ray said. “We’re not going to do something wrong to put ourselves or the city in a bad light.”

Background checks

Ray said all officers in Missouri undergo an extensive background check before they can become a peace officer. During a 2008 background check, no criminal background was found. In 2015, a 51-page TransUnion TLO report again turned up no criminal history, Ray said.

Ray has always maintained that he has no criminal convictions on his record. During his six-year career with the Farber Police Department, he worked on rebuilding a waterlogged service rifle at his home. A state trooper filed the weapon as stolen, although Ray told him about the previous agreement for repairs.

The prosecuting attorney at the time told Ray that he could take the case to trial, but the $2,000 cost wasn’t feasible at the time. Ray opted to plead guilty to a charge of “property damage with no malicious intent,” meaning the item was modified in appearance but not deliberately destroyed or damaged. He also voluntarily signed up for 100 community service hours, completing the sessions in Hannibal. After the two-year unsupervised probation term passed, the suspended imposition of sentence closed the case, and no conviction was recorded.

Ray said he self-reported the incident to the Department of Public Safety. The department’s director Jeremy Spratt affirmed Ray’s continuing status as a Class A peace officer Jan. 4.

Summons and correspondence

Center’s Board of Aldermen has focused recently on ordinances related to property deemed a public nuisance and taxes owed to the city, which includes a total of $198,000 in unpaid property taxes. Ray said he serves as a code enforcer, and he exercises leniency every chance possible. The city ordinance calls for a ticket if the property is still out of compliance after seven days. But Ray has worked with some households for months, provided they are working on making a difference.

When the property is cleaned up, the charges are dropped. So far, he’s seen an 80 percent success rate, with property owners fixing the issues shortly after receiving a letter. In spring, 30 properties were out of compliance; all but four have been cleaned up.

“Everyone who has complied has not paid a fine,” he said.

Ray pointed out that the law dictates he is not a tax collector — he enforces city ordinances related to taxes. He works closely each month with the Board of Aldermen on laws such as a city sticker for vehicles.

Ray plans to host a question and answer forum soon for community residents. He said he strives to sit down with citizens to explain what’s going on and to hear their comments, keeping in mind that “not everyone is guilty.”

“I think that makes me a better cop,” he said.

Ray said it was difficult to listen to the allegations on Jan. 4 without addressing them right then, but he agreed with Board of Aldermen members that it was the best approach. But soon afterward, Ray received words of encouragement throughout the community that boosted his spirit.

“I just feel a lot better now because of the support I’ve got from the community,” Ray said. These emails of support mean the world to me.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@ccourierpost.com