FRANKLINTON, N.C. (WNCN) – The Nash County town of Middlesex fired its police chief Thursday during an emergency personnel meeting called after his arrest.
Franklin County investigators charged William Dennis Murray with misdemeanor assault on a female and misdemeanor communicating threats. Deputies said Murray hit his girlfriend in the head, pulled her by the hair, and slammed her against a door Tuesday night.
“If the charges are factual and everything, I think it’s time that he be severed or offered the opportunity to resign,” downtown Middlesex business owner Henry Manning said.
Middlesex mayor Lu Harvey Lewis said he learned about the arrest when CBS North Carolina contacted him about the arrest. Lewis declined to comment until after the Town Board meeting early Thursday afternoon.
The commissioners met in closed session for about 30 minutes before unanimously voting to terminate Murray’s employment, effective immediately.
“It was not an easy decision for any of the board members. Dennis started his career here and he’s been here the whole time. He has been an overall very good officer and he’s been a good chief. It just comes times when you have to make a change,” Mayor Lewis said.
“The decision the board made today was based on things that have developed over the last 24 to 36 hours, and based on ongoing things that have developed over the last 12 to 15 months.”
In February 2016, investigators arrested Murray and another town employee for cyberstalking the woman’s husband. Those charges were eventually dropped.
Several people who asked not to be identified by name said they felt the town commissioners rushed a decision as Murray has not been convicted of any charges. They said crime in Middlesex is low and praised his work as police chief.
The mayor said even though there haven’t been any convictions, the town’s elected officials felt the arrests were more than they could bear at this time.
“It’s perception. A lot goes on with the perception of the townspeople and the public, and putting yourself in a position to even have this happen,” Lewis said.
Murray joined the Middlesex Police Department about 15 years ago and served as chief for five years. There are three other full-time officers in the department and five part-time officers. Lewis said the town will depend on those reserve officers as well as Nash County deputies to step in and help during the search for a new police chief.
Henry Manning, owner of the Manning Brothers Inc. hardware store across from town hall and a block from the police station, said Murray should not come back to the department even if he is cleared of the charges.
“I think it’s best for the town to stick with whomever they hire to replace him and let him look for other employment. These types of incidents–two’s a little bit too many,” Manning said.
“It’s given the town a bad name. It’s also given law enforcement in general maybe a bad name, if a chief starts being charged with assaults and things.”
Murray met Thursday afternoon with Mayor Lewis to return his police equipment and clear out his office.