Oklahoma Town Reels After a Detective Is Charged With Killing Its Police Chief

  • In US
  • 2019-11-14 19:44:40Z
  • By The New York Times

Tyler Buttram, the mayor of Mannford, Oklahoma, cannot remember the last time someone was killed in the 3,500-person town near Tulsa.

But a killing more than 800 miles away, in Pensacola, Florida, that left Mannford's police chief dead and his detective and close friend in jail on a homicide charge has jolted the salt-of-the earth community and drawn unwanted attention to a town previously known to outsiders for its RV parks along the meandering shores of Keystone Lake. It has also sent town officials scrambling to provide answers and move forward.

"Everybody is confused," Buttram, 37, said. "Nobody could wrap their heads around this."

The two men - 44-year-old Lucky Miller, who had been Mannford's police chief since 2007, and 49-year-old Michael Nealey, whom Miller hired to the eight-person department several years ago - had been attending a law enforcement training conference in the Florida Panhandle.

On Sunday around 9:50 p.m. local time, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office responded to complaints at the Hilton Pensacola Beach hotel, where deputies found Miller unresponsive on the floor and Nealey lying a short distance away, mumbling, according to a police report.

Sgt. Melony Peterson, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said in an interview that the cause of death had not been determined and that an autopsy was being performed. She said the two men had been drinking before the fatal encounter.

According to the report, guests at the Hilton had complained of loud noises coming from Room 527. One witness, who went down to the front desk to request a room change, heard laughter and yelling for several hours.

Another reported hearing a "roaring" noise and then heard a man yelling, "Stop it, Mike," several times loudly, and then more quietly, before stopping altogether, according to the report.

A hotel worker went to check on the situation and knocked on the door several times but "only heard a grunting noise." The worker entered the room and found Nealey sitting on top of Miller, who was lying on the floor, according to report. The worker yelled at Nealey to get up and then pulled him off the chief.

By the time police arrived, Miller was dead. His face was beaten and his right eye was completely swollen, but there were no other apparent injuries, according to the police report.

Investigators noted that Nealey's right hand was swollen and red and that his nose and lip had been injured from falling on the floor after the hotel worker pulled him off Miller.

On Tuesday, Nealey, who is charged with second-degree homicide, made a video appearance before a Florida courtroom, where a judge set bail at $1.5 million, jail records show. Nealey's next court date is set for Dec. 5.

A lawyer for Nealey, Jason Lewis, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille, for the 1st Judicial Circuit of Florida, whose office is assisting the sheriff's office with the case, declined to comment but said he believed there was "sufficient evidence" to move forward with the prosecution.

"There is a quite a bit more investigative matter that is being looked into and additional evidence to be obtained," he said Tuesday.

Several attempts to reach relatives of Miller and Nealey this week were unsuccessful.

But Buttram said that the two men were "inseparable" and that their families were close.

Word of the killing traveled back to Mannford early Monday, and police officers from neighboring towns stepped in to give the Mannford force some time off.

"Everybody in the community has been impacted," said Gerald Haury, the town administrator, whose office in City Hall is near the Police Department.

All week, the mayor said, the Police Department has been receiving flowers and deliveries from Pizza Hut, Chick-fil-A and RibCrib BBQ.

The town has also been flooded with inquiries about what had happened and why, Haury said, but officials are short on answers.

"It's kind of hard for us to know since we weren't there," he said, "and they're not going to give us information that might hinder their investigation."

On Monday, Haury appointed a longtime officer, Jerry Ridley, as interim police chief.

"Fortunately, the other officers were used to dealing with him, so it made a smoother transition to carry on for right now," Haury said. "We'll look for a permanent solution later on."

Ridley could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening, but he spoke to television station KOTV News about receiving word that Miller had been killed.

"I've been doing this a very long time," Ridley said. "I have never received a phone call even close to this."

On Wednesday evening, Miller's body was flown from Pensacola to Oklahoma City. The body was expected to be escorted by police procession about an hour east, to Stroud, a community near the church where Miller's funeral service will be held Saturday.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for Miller's wife, Amber, and their three children.

"At the end of the day, there are two wives whose husbands aren't coming home to them and a whole bunch of kids whose worlds have been turned upside down," Buttram said. "Everybody should be praying for these two families because that's what they need more than anything."

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2019 The New York Times Company


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