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Interviews released in Lakeland Chief's suspension | News

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Interviews released in Lakeland Chief's suspension

Lakeland, FL -- The State Attorney's Office 20-page report suggests Chief Lisa Womack abused her authority to gain favoritism for her husband's nephew, Rhett Hughes.

READ: Summary of SAO report on Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack (pdf)

When Hughes failed a portion of a new test to become a Public Safety Aide, they say Womack changed the rules, questioned the test-givers' competence and threw out the results for the whole group of test-takers.

An effort, they say, to try and move Hughes forward in the hiring process.

The report dates back to 2012 and the first time a newly revamped public service aide test was administered.

After learning of Hughes failure of the test, an angry Chief Womack's husband allegedly called her Assistant Chief Charles Thompson saying the process and the people giving the test are flawed.

Thompson told investigators he remembers Jimmy Womack essentially saying to him, "What are you guys doing? You can't give a test. Get it right. Something to that effect."

READ: Charles Thompson's interview (Note: Key points begin on page 49)

Chief Womack, they say, then ordered staff not to publish the test results, and then unilaterally ordered all applicants pass the first phase of the testing process -- including her nephew.

Womack says she later pulled Hughes out of the pool of applicants, but there was still question about the timing of that decision.

The idea the test was somehow flawed was something former city employeee and test administrator Jim Osburn objected to.

"Absolutely," said Osburn. "They basically ignored valid results and chose who they wanted to choose."

Capt. Victor White, who overheard the phone call to former Assistant Chief Thompson, told the State Attorney's Office he thought from the start it was wrong.

He said Womack would later enter his office demanding the testing process be changed to better accommodate out-of-town candidates like her nephew.

"She stood in my office, raised her finger, pointed it at me and said "fix it!" said White.

READ: Captain Victor White's interview (Key points in interview begins on page 35)

It was an edict Captain White not only considered wrong, but moreover, "My understanding is it's illegal.," he told investigators. "It certainly is improper. And it would be very, very expensive."

Investigators would also question Womack's husband Jimmy Womack, who they say was present the morning the test results came out.

The results angered him, he admitted to investigators.

"Yeah, upset maybe, I guess," he described his reaction.

Jimmy Womack claimed he could not recall discussing the issue with Thompson.

But the decision to move then entire class of applicants forward in the process was his wife's doing, he said.

"She made an executive decision, I guess. That'd be the way to put it," said Jimmy Womack.

READ: Jimmy Womack's interview (Note: Key points in interview begin on page 14)

It's a decision, says the State Attorney, that under Florida Statute might be considered a third-degree felony.

If not illegal, he says, it was almost certainly a violation of several City Policies.

State Attorney Jerry Hill added a hand-written note to the back page of the report, thanking his investigator Mike Brown, but told him given the current circumstances -- the fact that Chief Womack had already resigned last week -- there would be no need for further investigation.

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