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Petitions circulate ‘for’ and ‘against’ reinstating officers

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The Ellis County Press

FERRIS - Those who want Ferris Police Chief Jeff Cottongame and Lieutenant Sherman Swafford returned to their positions in the Ferris Police Department can voice their opinion by signing a petition.

Those who don't want them back can also say so.

Two opposite petitions have been circulated by representatives of two local businesses in Ferris, after the city council decided to keep the two top ranking Ferris police officers on paid suspension, pending the outcome of an external investigation.

Ken Riley, a mortgage consultant for Lone Star Home Loans in Ferris, said he started a petition to show support for the suspended police officers.

He said he began the petition after he

saw how angry and frustrated the residents attending the Sept. 15 council meeting were because they said they felt like the chief and lieutenant were being treated unfairly, without enough discussion among the council members to make the appropriate decisions regarding the officers suspensions.

'A police officer is a police officer 24 hours a day. I know if something happened in the city and they were needed (while on suspension), they would come and help,' Riley said.

'This is something I felt strongly about. I felt somebody needed to start something'

Riley also created an online petition at www.thepetitionsite.com for the public to sign and leave their comments regarding the situation.

An e-mail The Ellis County Press Reporter Joey Dauben had intended to be sent to the www.thepetitionsite.com webmaster, got posted on the petition by accident.

Dauben said the e-mail stated, 'Love this idea of petition-gathering; nice format and very easy to use. Thanks.'

'I did not mean for it to appear on the petition in support of the officers. I thought web based political involvement was a good idea. Besides, why would I even want to sign the petition? I don't even live here,' said Dauben.

On the web site and the written petition Riley stated, 'I have heard the allegations and heard the mayor (Jimmie Birdwell) himself say that in his investigation he has found no wrong doing.'

Birdwell has denied having said, 'he has found no wrong doing.'

At the meeting, he actually said that because he has had very little time to investigate, the only wrong doing he has found so far is the officers signed checks on an account they didn't have signature authority on.

Birdwell said the investigation would not be complete until the lawyers hired by the city council conducted an outside investigation.

As of early Monday morning, Sept. 22 the paper petition had about three pages with 25 names on them at a few local cafes in town, according to Riley.

Advocates for Cottongame and Swafford have argued the officers should be allowed to return to their jobs because they are still getting paid.

Supporters of the city council said they felt the officers should stay on suspension pending the results of the investigation.

Teresa Schiffer and Melanie Queen, owners of A Cash and Mail Emporium, began another petition to let the supporters of the city council's voices be heard and to get an idea of what the public wants to be done concerning the officers.

'They are suspended with pay. It's just as fair with them to have an independent investigation. That's why we have legal procedures,' Schiffer said.

'I'm tired of the rumors, slander and racial slurs. Mr. (Victor) Burnett is not the only person on the city council. We live in America.

'We should not be afraid of rumors of retaliation just because we want to follow a legal course of action to get to the bottom of this. We have always supported the police department and will continue to do so.'

Queen agreed with her friend and business partner, saying an outside investigation would keep the findings impartial and unbiased.

'Because this is a small town and outside investigation does need to be done,' Queen and Schiffer said.

Other residents have said they are scared, if Cottongame and Swafford return to duty, the investigation will be compromised because people will be afraid to talk for fear of retaliation.

The council-support petition has a full page of signatures and two pages half-way filled, as of Monday morning, Sept. 22, Schiffer and Queen said.

'That's the great thing about this country,' Riley said. 'You have the right to disagree.'

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