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Fulford’s ascent marked by change, competition

With his swearing-in ceremony Thursday morning, Selma Police Department (SPD) Chief Kenta Fulford reached the summit of what has been a months-long process marked by tumult within the department, multiple changes in leadership and an in-depth interview process that put him up against five other highly-qualified candidates.

Though Fulford had no way of knowing it at the time, his ascent to the top spot in city law enforcement began in early June at a meeting of the Selma City Council.

On June 11, Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips held a press conference on the steps of Selma City Hall to rail against a second indictment against the three SPD officers – Toriano Neely, Jeffrey Hardy and Kendall Thomas –  whose charges had been thrown out only weeks before.

During that press conference, McPhillips stated that “personal animosity” was driving the second indictment and called for Selma Mayor Darrio Melton and then-Chief Spencer Collier to stand with the officers.

A few hours later, appearing before the Selma City Council, McPhillips continued his tirade, saying that it was “asinine” that Collier still had a job.

“The morale of the Selma Police Department is at an all-time low,” McPhillips said during the beginning of his statement before the council. “It’s never been so low… I wouldn’t be up here if you had a different mayor and a different police chief. If you don’t get a new police chief, you share in the responsibility for all that is going on here.”

Shortly thereafter, Collier, who had not been in the meeting but was listening over the radio, entered and began exchanging barbs with McPhillips.

As the two went back and forth, the crowd assembled at the meeting began shouting demands for an explanation as to why Collier had not supported the officers, forcing Selma City Council President Corey Bowie to call a brief recess so that order could be restored.

Collier, who had earlier that day intimated that he was considering retiring over long-standing health issues, submitted his retirement paperwork following the meeting.

With Collier’s departure slated for the end of July, the city had to act to quickly find a replacement, at least on a temporary basis – two weeks later, on June 25, the council appointed Robert Green, a former lawman in Selma and Northport, to serve as chief on an interim basis.

However, even that decision was not without controversy, as Selma City Council members Sam Randolph and Angela Benjamin opposed Green’s appointment – both stated that they wanted Fulford named to the post.

“He’s a very fair person,” Randolph said of Fulford, who he served with in the military. “I feel we need a homegrown person to be our police chief. I don’t want to move backwards. We have a forward vision in Selma. I’m not satisfied with the situation we have at the police department.”

Despite the initial opposition, Green took over leadership of the department.

The process for finding a full-time replacement for Collier had already begun by the time the council extended Green’s contract through the end of the year during an Oct. 28 meeting.

During that meeting, Bowie praised Green for playing an instrumental role in getting the local “Weed and Seed” program off the ground and stated that it was important to retain Green so that he could oversee the distribution of grant funds.

Fearing that his work with the SPD would jeopardize his retirement, Green informed the council not long thereafter that his tenure would come to an end effective Nov. 30, setting the council up to make yet another last-minute leadership decision.

By that time, the search and selection process for the next police chief was well underway, with six candidates vying for the position in the beginning – among them was Fulford.

On Dec. 3, during a special called meeting the council appointed SPD Capt. Johnny King to lead the department on an interim basis and two days later, on Dec. 5, the search committee tasked with culling the list of candidates announced the three finalists – former Butler County Sheriff Kenneth Harden, Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles Probation and Parole Manager Stephanie Stewart and Fulford.

On Dec. 11, the candidates appeared before the public during a meet and greet event at the Selma Convention Center – each candidate made their pitch the lead the SPD and spent time talking with citizens in attendance.

One week later, on Dec. 18, the council voted to name Fulford the SPD’s new chief after a heated back and forth between council members.

After Benjamin offered praise for Fulford and intimated her intention to put his name forth for chief, Selma City Councilman John Leashore, who had previously accused a faction of council members of banding together to tip the scales in Fulford’s favor, blasted the process for not allowing all three finalists to appear before the council – the vote was taken and, aside from Leashore, the council through its weight behind Fulford’s appointment.

On Thursday, the process came to a close as Fulford was sworn in as Selma’s Chief of Police during a ceremony at the Selma Convention Center.