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Chester mayor: 'All confidence' in police chief after complaint about traffic stop

The mayor of Chester – a city already reeling from gang violence after the killing of a City Councilman last month – said Tuesday she still supports Police Chief Andre Williams after the father of twin high school scholar-athletes who were handcuffed during a traffic stop called for the chief to be fired.

“I absolutely have all confidence in Chief Williams and his ability to perform his job,” Mayor Wanda Stringfellow said, a day after Carlos Williams brought his complaint to the City Council.

City Councilman King Thompson said he “definitely” has full confidence in the chief. On Tuesday, he told The Herald that he saw part of the Nov. 21 incident on Oak Street in Chester from his porch. The chief had his blue lights on when he was following the car that Friday night around 8:30 p.m., Thompson said, and he also saw two unmarked Chester police vehicles respond afterward. The car being pulled over did not stop for at least 100 meters, Thompson said.

“I can see where a parent could be serious about what happened,” he said, “but it appears the chief was right and did everything by the book.”

Williams, police chief since 2011, pulled over Cardan Williams, 16, saying he did not stop for police blue lights and siren for a half-mile. Several other officers arrived after the chief called for backup, with at least two aiming guns toward the car. Cardan Williams and his twin brother, Caymen Williams, were handcuffed before being released to their father without arrest.

Chief Williams said he initiated a felony traffic stop, which includes drawn weapons, because the driver refused to stop for lights, siren and horn. Chief Williams said he did not know the identity of the occupants of the car at that time, or their race, but the stop happened in known gang territory.

Since the Nov. 4 drive-by shooting death of City Councilman Odell Williams, Chief Williams said, officer safety has been an even higher priority.

As it turned out, the teens – honor students and athletes at Chester High School – were driving from their home to a relative’s home.

Carlos Williams publicly rebuked the chief’s handling of the stop at Monday night’s Chester City Council meeting, which was packed with members of his church and others. He called Chief Williams “dismissive” and “egotistical” and not deserving to remain as chief. Chief Williams was at the meeting Monday night and did not address council about the allegations. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Chief Williams has “upgraded the police department,” Thompson said, but he has been undermined by some who have “orchestrated efforts” to try to get rid of Chief Williams. Thompson declined to say who had tried to undermine the chief.

Stringfellow said the conflict “sounds like a parent concerned his sons were pulled over.” As a parent of a teenaged black son, she said, she understands Carlos Williams’ concerns, especially with the national and local debate raging about how police treat blacks. Stringfellow said she knows the teens, having hired them to be DJs at events at Chester Middle School, where she works.

“These are outstanding young men,” Stringfellow said. “This seems like an unfortunate set of incidents.”

Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood and Chief Williams are black. Chief Williams, Odell Williams and Carlos Williams and his family are not related.

City Councilman William Killian said he has confidence in both Chief Williams and Sheriff Underwood, but Odell Williams’s death – followed by continued tension between the community and police over gangs – is “killing Chester.”

“The police are scared now, and we don’t want our kids killed in these gang situations,” Killian said. “It’s killing our town ... Ever since Odell got killed, the tension – everybody is scared now.

“This all has to stop.”

Killian, a truck driver and father of two teens, said Cardan and Caymen Williams were “probably scared,” but all drivers must stop for for police immediately when blue lights come on.

“No ifs ands or buts, you have to stop,” Killian said. “I told their father that. I know the boys, their family. They are all good people.”

City Councilwoman Annie Reid, chairwoman of the city’s public safety committee, said Chief Williams and other Chester officers involved in the traffic stop followed proper procedures. She said she has seen nothing that shows Chief Williams acted inappropriately during the stop. She said Carlos Williams declined to meet Thursday with the city’s public safety committee, the usual forum to air complaints against the police department.

Police Maj. Gene Gilmore, a former interim chief who also is black, was part of the traffic stop and confirmed to The Herald the chief’s version of events that the teens did not stop for police.

It remains unclear if Carlos Williams will file a formal complaint against the police department or take any legal action. Chester city attorney Megan Gaston said Tuesday no complaint has been filed.

Councilman George Caldwell said he did not know enough to comment, but he said if Carlos Williams wants an investigation, a probe will be done.

The city of Chester has just under 6,000 people, of which two-thirds are black, in a rural county of about 33,000 people. Chester’s police chief is hired by the City Council, but reports to the city administrator.

Odell Williams, 69, a city councilman and former Chester police officer, was gunned down Nov. 4 in what police say was a slaying by five alleged gang members, who are black. Sheriff Underwood said that gang members made death threats against him, his officers and their families during the investigation.

The gang problem has gotten so bad that Underwood has asked the Chester County Council for money to hire more deputies to fight gangs, but his request was rejected. State police sent 10 officers to help patrol last weekend, but no long-term solution has been found.