Centralia resident sues City Manager for crime levels, police staffing

CENTRALIA — A frustrated Centralia resident has followed through with his promise weeks ago that if the City of Centralia did not take action to hire more police officers that he would file a lawsuit.

Resident Vernell Burris filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Marion County Court against City Manager Dan Ramey, claiming that Ramey’s policies and leadership have resulted in “violent and lawless” actions of criminals in his neighborhood.

Burris seeks to have three additional officers hired, saying there are sufficient funds in the budget to cover the additional officers and that the additional manpower is necessary to reduce the city’s increased crime rate.

Currently the Centralia Police Department is staffed by 23 police officers, including Police Chief Brian Atchison, after one officer recently resigned to work as a dispatcher.

The City had budgeted for the hiring of one additional officer earlier in the year but the candidate that was offered the position failed the background check process and could not be hired. The City has not yet offered that position to another candidate.

According to one member of the Centralia City Council, that position was created for that specific individual and so the spot was not filled when it was discovered that he was unqualified.

Ramey, has not yet been served papers in the lawsuit, and has not returned our call for comment.

But Burris isn’t the only critic of staffing levels at the Centralia Police Department. The Fraternal Order of Police has filed a its second grievance against the city regarding safety.

The FOP says one of the things they have been asking for is an increase in the staffing of the police department, which so far has been refused by the City, citing there is not enough money in the budget.

According to Dan Bailey with the FOP, the city had agreed to hire its 25th officer and so the FOP withdrew its first grievance. But when the hiring of that officer fell through and no other candidate was hired, a second grievance was filed.

“There are AK-47s being fired in the streets of Centralia, people being shot, and numerous armed robberies,” explains Bailey. “We will go all the way with this grievance until the city increases the number of officers and the citizens of Centralia have safer streets.”