Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard, who outraged many in this small college community when he decorated two police officers who shot and killed a black teen three years ago, announced Wednesday that he was withdrawing the officers' employee of the year awards.
Acknowledging that his decision to commend the officers had remained an enduring source of pain to many residents and family members of the slain motorist, Southard announced he was rescinding the awards after struggling with the issue for several years.
"I believe it is in the best interest of the community and the city organization to put this issue behind us as we finish the healing process," Southard said in a two-page prepared statement released Wednesday. "To help bring that about, I have decided to withdraw the 1999 Employee of the Year awards."
In comments following the release of the statement, Southard said he struggled for a long time with the decision.
"Since the day after I did it [presented the awards], it's been a personal conflict for me," he said. "I thought saying it was a mistake and apologizing would take care of it."
Officers Kent Jacks and Hany Hanna were named the 1999 employees of the year, 11 months after they shot and killed 18-year-old Irvin Landrum Jr. during a traffic stop late at night. The $1,000 awards were given in recognition of the intense public pressure the officers endured after the shooting.
The two officers told investigators that Landrum pulled a gun on them. Originally, Hanna told investigators that Landrum had fired, but the gun found at his feet had not been fired, and investigators found no fingerprints. The conflicting story and the awards fueled heated protests for nearly two years.
The officers were eventually cleared by the district attorney's office based on a review of the sheriff's report on the case.
Even after Southard apologized for his decision more than two years ago and city officials implemented most of the recommendations of a review committee, the city's image has suffered in the eyes of many minorities.
"It's clear that this was going to continue to be a factor for people," said Claremont Mayor Paul Held. "It still came up as an issue at council meetings, the fact that we hadn't completely addressed the fact that the officers were given awards .... It became a symbol, and we needed to address it."
Southard acknowledged that bad feelings lingered. He said he hoped to put it behind the city before a new City Council is sworn in later this month.
Two years ago, the city released a traffic study that showed officers do not conduct racial profiling, an issue that had generated considerable debate since the Landrum shooting.
Claremont Police Officers Assn. President Ken Franklin said he recently talked with Jacks and Hanna, who have retired from law enforcement because of the controversy.
"They're OK with this too," he said. "We're all tired of this whole thing, and if this is what it takes to move on, then let's move on."
Southard said the officers will keep the $1,000 that accompanied their awards.
Correspondent David Hermann contributed to this report.