A Highlandville Police Officer is on leave after allegations of falsifying information.
Ozarks First Investigative Reporter Lauren Barnas feature is below:
In a city short of a thousand residents, two paid police officers are assigned to keep the peace. As of today, just one remains. The other, Officer Tracy West, is on paid administrative leave for accusations that he falsified information and tampered with evidence.
In a KOLR 10 Investigates exclusive interview, the Highlandville police chief says the officer was improperly trained and never passed a background check. But the mayor, who hired Officer Tracy West, says he was vetted on good faith. Our team spoke to both leaders at odds over the allegations.
Our investigative team obtained a letter from volunteer Police Chief Warren Hagar, who was appointed to the top spot after former Chief Jackie Weeks was arrested for domestic assault last year. Third-degree domestic assault charges were dropped, but he was removed from his position as police chief in Highlandville.
The letter confirms Chief Hagar conducted an investigation into West, finding that West violated five department policies and Missouri law when he did not file a report or make an arrest in an assault with weapons call.
“I pulled the call logs, I’m still waiting on the 911 audio and the radio track of that night,” said Police Chief Hagar. “And what I found…he broke RSMo code. If there is a domestic, you must arrest people if they’ve been hit three times, no if’s and’s or but’s.”
But Hagar says the issue is bigger. He says the mayor bypassed him to hire West who never passed a background check, was undertrained, and recommended by the former chief released for his own assault allegations. We asked the mayor what sort of training West received.
“I knew he was an experienced officer, had been police chief for six and a half years,” said Highlandville Mayor Clint Ellingsworth. “I took him out and showed him the city limits of town and turned him loose.”
Mayor Ellingsworth confirmed he never conducted a background check on West either, but said it’s because he is well known in the community. The mayor said he called other departments that previously employed West instead.
“The mayor basically handed him keys and a Tahoe and said go do a police job,” said Hagar.
The mayor says he and the Board of Aldermen have exclusive hiring and firing authority and don’t need the police chief’s permission. Whether any merit will be found in the accusations is now up to the state division of public safety to decide. The investigation could take months.
“I’ve been here 14 years,” said Ellingsworth. “If I was a corrupt individual, someone would have taken me out before now.”
Mayor Ellingsworth said he’s called on Christian County to conduct an investigation separate from the state. Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole told KOLR10 Investigates that he is waiting on a formal request in writing.
The mayor adds that with the board’s approval, he can dissolve the Highlandville Police Department at any time.