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Athens-Clarke police chief seeking position out of state

Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill

By Joe Johnson

After less than two years as police chief for Athens-Clarke County, Cleveland Spruill is seeking to become chief in another state.

According to the Frederick, MD, government website, Spruill and a second finalist for the city’s police chief position are scheduled to address a community forum on Tuesday. They also are to meet with members of the local Fraternal Order of Police.

Vying for the position is another finalist, Jason Lando, who is commander of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, according to the Frederick website.

No one at the police department would comment, except to say that Spruill was out of town until next week.

Spruill could not be reached by phone, and his boss, ACC Manager Blaine Williams also could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Kelly Girtz said he was aware that Spruill was looking for employment elsewhere.

“My understanding is that it’s for family and personal reasons,” Girtz said Thursday night.

Spruill began as Athens-Clarke County’s police chief on Feb. 4, 2019, replacing Scott Freeman, who was forced to resign due to a lack of trust in his leadership among rank-and-file officers.

In his three years as chief, Freeman tried to improve transparency and the department’s public image. Along the way, though, he alienated many officers who believed he was more concerned with image than substance, according to county records obtained through an Open Records Act request.

Similarly, exit interviews from some recently-departed ACCPD employees indicate there is internal displeasure with Spruill’s leadership.

“Chief Spruill is an ineffective leader with a lack of strategic vision,” said David Griffeth, who resigned after serving 15 years as ACCPD’s senior crime analyst. “He proffers no viable plan for addressing the systemic problems at the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.

“Spruill took the helm of the agency at a critical tipping point, and he has failed to right the proverbial sinking ship,” Griffeth wrote in his exit interview.

The former police employee said that Spruill “is an autocratic, micro-manager without the essential skills” to lead the department.

Timothy Scott, who resigned in October at the rank of lieutenant, cited “poor leadership” and “a toxic work environment” as his main reasons for leaving.

A member of the department anonymously copied Classic City News on this email sent to the county manager:

“I am sending this email from an alternate email account so my identity remains anonymous. I hope you understand. Members of ACCPD are quickly learning that Chief Spruill is a finalist for the Chief’s position in Frederick Maryland. Needless to say, this is concerning as he recently told the department that he has no intentions of leaving. With morale still near rock bottom, this certainly will not help."

If Spruill is seeking to leave for family reasons, Maryland is closer to where he spent most of his police career, serving nearly 27 years with the Alexandria Police Department in Virginia.

He was born in Queens, New York, and relocated with his family to Richmond, Virginia, in 1978. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Battalion at Ft. Myer, Virginia. He was honorably discharged in 1986 and joined the Alexandria Police Department the following year.

He served as chief of a small police department in North Carolina for several years prior to coming to Athens.

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