New chief selected to lead U.S. Park Police

Former U.S. Park Police chief Teresa Chambers will continue her legal battle to be reinstated, even though the National Park Service officially hired a new person for the position this week.

The National Park Service announced Monday that Dwight Pettiford was selected to be the new Park Police chief. He joined the Park Police in 2002 and had served as acting chief since March 2004.

"Chief Pettiford has a long and outstanding record of service in law enforcement," said NPS Director Fran Mainella. "He's proven a capable leader who is highly respected by his officers, his peers in other departments and within the National Park Service."

Chambers told Government Executive Tuesday that she will continue her legal battle to be reinstated as Park Police chief. She has an appeal pending before the Merit Systems Protection Board. If that fails, Chambers says she is willing to take her case to federal court.

"This doesn't change our approach one bit," she said. "If we're not successful at [the MSPB] level, then we're also prepared to move forward in federal court."

The Park Service placed Chambers on administrative leave in December 2003 after she told The Washington Post that her 620-member police force needed 800 more officers to meet increased demands. She also said the Park Police faced a $12 million budget shortfall.

After the article was published, Park Service Deputy Director Don Murphy put Chambers under a gag order, placed her on administrative leave and proposed to remove her from her position. She was officially fired last July.

Chambers' legal case already has been shot down once at the MSPB. Judge Elizabeth Bogle issued an initial decision last October upholding the Park Service's decision to fire Chambers. Bogle said then that reinstating Chambers to the force "would impair the agency's ability to carry out its law enforcement mission."

Chambers asked the full MSPB in December to reverse that initial decision, arguing that the judge and the agency made more than 40 legal errors. The Interior Department has until this Friday to submit comments to the full board regarding the case.

Park Service spokesman David Barna said the first MSPB ruling paved the way to move forward with hiring a new chief. "Our view is that we removed [Chambers] from her position and last October the MSPB affirmed that decision, and so we are OK to go ahead," Barna said.

Chambers said she does not resent Pettiford. The two worked together at the Durham Police Department in Durham, N.C., before joining the Park Police.

"It's not personal against Dwight," Chambers said. "I'm happy for him, and I'm happy that the Park Police has some level of continuity now."

But Chambers said she is driven by a sense of patriotism and the support she has received to keep fighting for the chief's position.

"If I allow myself to walk away from being silenced for doing what I was hired to do... then I have taken my patriotism and thrown it in the trash," she said. "I can't turn my back on the job for which I was hired. The fact that they removed it from me doesn't mean I care about it any less."

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