Decherd police chief speaks after meeting is suddenly cancelled

Decherd Police Chief Ross Peterson
Posted at 10:26 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 23:43:11-04

DECHERD, Tenn. (WTVF) — City leaders in the Franklin county town of Decherd were supposed to meet Thursday to determine whether their police chief should be fired, but the Mayor canceled the meeting at the last minute, saying the city's attorney needs to do more investigating into the fallout from a former Decherd Officer who is now charged with aggravated assault.

It all stems from an incident last month where the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office says former officer Mathew Ward held a driver at gunpoint while off duty and out of his jurisdiction, following a road rage incident on I-24 in Rutherford County.

Ward was allowed to resign from the police department.

City leaders have questioned why the Decherd police department didn't dig deeper into Ward's work history before he was hired. According to documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 through a public records request Ward's police trainers at his previous job with Ft. Walton Beach Police in Florida raised several red flags before Ward quit prior to finishing his training.

After initially not responding to questions from NewsChannel 5 about Ward's training history, Decherd Police Chief Ross Peterson answered questions from several reporters for nearly an hour and a half Thursday.

Previously, Peterson told NewsChannel 5 that Ward hadn't signed a release allowing the police department to ask his former employers detailed questions about his past.

But documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 contradict that explanation, including a policy Peterson set out less than two months before Ward was hired, mandating that such a form be filled out.

Thursday, Peterson said the form Ward filled out did not fall under the policy Peterson had put in place but didn't explain, in that case, what specific form the policy was referring to.

Peterson did say it should have been the job of Police Investigator Greg King to have called Ft. Walton Beach Police to find out about Ward's blemished work history.

But King told NewsChannel 5 last week that Peterson specifically told him not to call.

"Chief Peterson and I were talking, and I said I was going to call Ft. Walton and find out what they had to say," King said last week. "[Peterson] said, 'Don’t worry about that, he’ll be fine,' and I clarified and I said, 'So you’re telling me not to call?' he goes, 'Yeah, it’ll be ok.'"

"No, I don’t believe that," Peterson said in response to King's statement.

"So are you saying the conversation did not happen or that you can’t remember?" asked NewsChannel 5.

"I am telling you that I did not tell him that he does not have the authority to do his job and call down there," Peterson said.

Still unclear -- is if, or when, another meeting will be scheduled about Chief Ross Peterson's future.