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Finalists for police chief make their case

The two finalists to become Hendersonville's next police chief made their case for the job during a live event from City Hall today.

The finalists are Gerald Childress, an officer and former deputy chief of the Mooresville police department, and Blair Myhand, police chief for the city of Clayton. A  broad search for the city's next top cop recommended two administrators with less than pristine personnel records. Childress was demoted in October 2019 from deputy chief to patrol officer at Mooresville and Myhand is currently on nondisciplinary leave from the Clayton police department.

Childress started his law enforcement career in Huntersville and moved to the Mooresville agency in 2005.

He answered questions from the press about his demotion in October 2019 from deputy chief to patrol officer.

He was interviewed during an independent investigation of the department triggered by complaints from the rank and file of a "hostile work environment," he said. "I had no complaints against me, I was told I was not under investigation. I was there voluntarily. I was told at that time that I was collateral damage in this investigation."

He lost his appeal of the disciplinary action.

"I feel this demotion was extremely harsh, unwarranted and politically driven," he said. "I have discussed this incident in detail with Mr. Connet and I'm still considered a valid candidate for this position."

Childress has a bachelor's degree from Lenoir Rhyne in Hickory and a master's degree in justice administration from Meredith University in Raleigh. His wife, Marsha, is a registered nurse with Blue Cross Blue Shield. They have a daughter, Bailey, who is a student at Lenoir Rhyne University.

A city of 47,000, Mooresville has crime that reflects its proximity to Charlotte, Childress said. He has experience as a detective and as a supervisor of criminal investigations.

He was asked if he favors a Citizens Advisory Board.

"I have not been an advocate of the Citizens Advisory Board," he said. "I think our policies and procedures, we have enough that we can police ourselves." Instead, "I would be willing to sit down and talk with folks" and address their concerns.

He said a department under his leadership would be open with the community.

"I am an advocate of making sure our Police Department does reflect our community," he said. "We don't discriminate against anyone. Everyone will have the opportunity to come into this department, be a part of this department and be a part of this community."

A police officer for 26 years, Myhand started with the Metro Washington, DC, and moved to Apex. In May 2017, he became police chief of Clayton.

"If you were to ask me why I'm on leave, honestly I can't tell you because the town has not been forthcoming," he said. "The winds have shifted there and we're not blowing in the same direction. ... This is a much bigger picture going on and I would encourage people to step back and get a bigger picture of what's going on."

"I think the city has done a very extensive search," he said. "I can tell you at the end of day that everybody is going to defend themselves, right? But I have done nothing improper, illegal, immoral or uneththical in my time as police chief. When all of this is over, I know that my integrity is intact."

"The direction of the leadership has changed," he added when asked to elaborate on the conflict between him and his bosses. "The focus has changed." He was hired three years ago to improve morale in the police department and that's what he focused on. "I probably should have spent more time building relationships with some of the officials in town and maybe I wouldn't be sitting in this situation. I did what I was hired to do and I don't deviate from that or compromise the integrity of my office. Maybe that leads me to be somewhat flexible, maybe I'm guilty as charged there."

He was asked what led him to direct Clayton officers to guard his house after riots broke out in Raleigh and Clayton and other cities. A "high level" gang leader had made it known he was seeking someone "to find my residence and set my house on fire," he said. "It was a very specific directed threat. I took it very seriously, so much so that I sent my wife out of town for four days, which she said she would never do again."

Hendersonville has not had a white police chief, aside from interim chiefs, since 1987. Myhand said his experience, including his service in majority black Washinton, D.C., had prepared him well to interact in a positive way with the African American community.

"I learned a lot from that experience," he said. "That really informed my approach to people. What I've done particularly with the African American community in Clayton is I've built some really strong friendships from folks in the religious community. ...  I  take a very upfront approach. I'm open and honest with folks. There's no way for me to understand systemitc rasicm ... because I'm not subject to that. We're not going to target individuals just because of what they look like. That's unethical."