• Dennis McCaslin

Fired Wister police chief says he was targeted by two Board of Trustee members in ouster

Brandon Cooper

The displaced chief of police of the town of Wister said on Monday that he has been the target of a campaign by two members of the Wister Board of Trustees to remove him from the head of the three-man department almost since he took the position last December.

Brandon Cooper, who was relieved of his position in a convoluted, specially-called trustee meeting last Friday, and his only other full-time officer, Shawn Booth, were terminated by a 3-1 vote of the city council that defies logic and smacked of conspiracy.

Cooper, who has been with the department since 2019 was named interim chief in September of last year before being named chief in December, cited two incidents that he feels led to his dismissal.

"They (two trustees) have been out to get me," said Cooper, who says he has been overwhelmed by the messages and phone calls of support he has received from the public. "I talked to an attorney in Oklahoma City and he said we're a right-to-work state and they can terminate for any reason."

"Ok...we'll see what the new council that comes into office in April 2023 has to say about it," said Cooper. "I posted on social media that I would be back in April."

When asked if he would actively campaign for candidates that might get him a majority of trustees that would give them his job back, Cooper picked his words cautiously.

"There are four trustee spots and a city clerk election," said Cooper. "From what I'm hearing, if we can get law enforcement-minded folks who support the police in office, I'll be back."

Cooper pinpointed trustee members Steven Morris and Max Harris as the leaders of the campaign against him. He says Morris was backing one of his personal friends for the police chief job when it was up for grabs in December.

"Morris was out to get from day one," said Cooper. "I kept his buddy from getting the job."

Cooper says the animosity between him and Harris stemmed from an incident earlier in the year when Harris had a city employee jimmy the lock on the police department door to gain entrance when no one was there.

He says Harris claims he went into the office because of a maintenance issue. Cooper sent up an affidavit to the county prosecutor to have the trustee criminally charged for what was tantamount to breaking and entering.

The special meeting vote went down like the Keystone Cops on Friday.

Going into the meeting, the board of trustees was down to just three members present--Harris, Morris, and Carla Pride. Member Tracy Bethell did not attend the session.

The council then voted to place Katherine Gee into one of the two vacant seats before appointing her Mayor to replace Billy Terry, who resigned last month due to work constraints.

The group then went into a 50-minute executive session and cast a vote in the 3-1 dismissal of the officers.

Harris announced the officers were fired for the "betterment of the community"

After the 3-1 vote left Wister without a verified officer to supervise him, reserve officer Frank Cardoza resigned, leaving the town without any police protection over the weekend.

Cooper said he has already had job offers from other Leflore County communities but says he loves Wister and the people of the town and for now, he's going to take a wait-and-see attitude with an eye toward April 2023.

Today in Fort Smith reached out to a member of the Board of Trustees for comment on Monday and other than confirming the city is anticipating a lawsuit, the trustee refused further comment twice before hanging up on this reporter.

This is an ongoing and possibly developing story and we will continue to update as more emerges.

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