By Erica Thomas, managing editor
TARRANT — Former Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno responded Thursday to a press conference held by Mayor Wayman Newton earlier in the day.
Newton was arrested on Wednesday on a charge of third-degree assault. The charge comes after former Police Chief Dennis Reno claimed that Newton slammed a door on him shortly after he was put into office. Reno said his left elbow was injured in the incident.
During the press conference Thursday, Newton explained his versions of the incident that happened on Nov. 3, 2020. He said it all started during a conversation about hiring practices at the police department.
“The former police chief of Tarrant, Dennis Reno, was unwilling to stop the discriminatory practice of not hiring African American officers, which under my administration is unacceptable,” said Newton.
Reno denies the claim that he didn’t want to hire black officers. He explained his version of the events during a phone call with The Tribune.
“He’s lying,” Reno said of the mayor. “What happened is that he wanted me to bring him, on a Tuesday, he wanted by Friday, every personnel file from the police department. At that time, my lieutenant for the police department was in ICU with COVID and I told him I would need a little bit more time to get that information because all of the files was on the lieutenant’s computer and I said, ‘I don’t have access to his computer.’ He jumps up from his desk and I will tell you exactly what he said. I hope it don’t offend you. He jumped up from that desk and he said, ‘I want it by f****** Friday!”
The former chief said that’s what started the verbal altercation.
“I jumped up and I said, ‘Don’t you ever curse me again,” Reno recalled. “That is all that was said. There was nothing about racism, nothing about me not hiring any blacks or anything. He’s lying like Hell! …I’m a man. He ain’t going to cuss me. I didn’t cuss him back. But when he stood up in that desk and said that to me, I knew good and well right then I wasn’t going to throw a 42-year career away off somebody like him.
…”I mean come, on. Give me a break! I never had a single complaint against me the entire time I was at Tarrant, about being a racist,” Reno continued. “Now all of a sudden he’s in office and I work for him for two hours and I’m a racist? Because that’s the only thing he can come up with.”
Newton said he expects the charge against him to be dropped after video of the incident is handed over to the District Attorney’s Office. He called the charges a “political stunt” to smear his name. But Reno said he has his own video of the incident and it shows the door being slammed on his elbow. He has been on workman’s comp since the injury.
Reno retired after the incident because he said he knew he wouldn’t be able to work with the new mayor.
When asked how many black officers were on the force when the new mayor took office, Mayor Newton said there weren’t any.
“There were no black officers,” said Newton. “The policy that I referred to that Mr. Reno had in place was simple. And to quote him exactly is, ‘I don’t hire black officers because black officers don’t like to police their own.”
Reno said he hired black officers during his time at Tarrant and said those officers had left the department to go to bigger cities and make more money. Reno believes Newton is making the issue about something that it’s not.
“It’s people like him that every time they’re wrong they start playing the race card,” Reno added. “I have never said a racist statement to that guy, never made one, and he plays the race card. Is there a reason you got rid of every white department head in the city? Who’s the racist here? Is it me or is it him?”
During his time as chief, Reno said he had a panel of three that recommend the hiring of officers, so he denies any claim that he had any discriminatory hiring practices.
“I never even got involved in the interviews,” said Reno. “They went through a process with these three people and then they would come to me and recommend who they wanted me to hire. I wasn’t even in the hiring process. So, the guy didn’t know what he was talking about.”
Since Reno left the force, he said around 12 officers have left the department. Newton said that is partly due to better-paying opportunities and partly due to continued angst brought on by the former police chief.
“But also partly due to a concerted effort between Dennis Reno, and city council members, and former city employees trying to get them to actually leave the city to hurt the city and to ultimately hurt my administration,” Newton said.
The police department is short two officers, Newton said. The fire department is also short two firefighters and neither department has a chief at this time.
A Facebook page called “What’s really happening in the new Tarrant” is another issue Newton addressed during the press conference. He said untrue things about him have been posted on the page, including that he tried to bribe officers to not arrest his cousin after a chase and crash. Newton said the person was not related to him but was related to a council member.
Newton said he feels he represents all of the people that want to change the city. He said he hopes to succeed in that endeavor. He does not plan to resign as mayor even though he fired the former fire chief after he was arrested on an assault charge because he said his own charge is a misdemeanor, and the charge against the former fire chief involved felony charges and a firearm.
Newton turned himself into the Jefferson County Jail on Wednesday and was released a short time later after posting a $1,000 bond. He said he went to the jail in Bessemer because he heard that the media was awaiting his arrival at the Birmingham Jail.
After months of pushback from the majority of council members, Newton said he hopes the city can eventually move in a positive direction.
“The problem is, the four individuals on the council, they know their time is up,” Newton said. “Unfortunately, if you look at the city, and if you look at the people who are actually engaged in our politics, the people who make it a point to come and volunteer for our Farmer’s Market, people who make it a point to volunteer for other….at our rec center, they don’t support those individuals. And so, unfortunately, it’s going to probably be another three years, but I feel certain that in 2024, that the citizens are going to clean house and we will actually have a council that is representative of the city and that wants to move the city forward.”
As for Reno, he said he is not yet enjoying retirement because he misses going to work every day. As for his shoulder, he said he might have to have surgery but that doctors are doing all they can to prevent that from happening.
You can watch Newton’s full press conference and reaction from his supporters below.