WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — UPDATED: West Memphis Police Chief Michael D. Pope, who was just named to the Arkansas city's chief position in June 2021, has resigned effective Christmas Eve.
And Damien Echols claims the resignation is over the West Memphis Three case, which WMPD denies.
In a letter to Mayor Marco McClendon dated December 7, 2021, Pope said, “At this time in my life, I have other endeavors and goals that are pointing me in a different direction.”
While Pope did not give any other information on his reasons for leaving, Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, said it had to do with evidence the department claimed had been destroyed in that case.
Damien Echols claims resignation is over West Memphis Three evidence
In a tweet, Echols said, "The chief of police was not truthful. He has now resigned, and we know that none of the evidence was destroyed. It can now be tested, to see who left DNA at the crime scene. My attorney was in the evidence room this morning and saw it with his own eyes. Every piece is still there."
Echols, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, were charged and convicted of the murders of three boys in 1994. After spending nearly 20 years in prison, the three men walked free on an Alford plea in 2011, which allowed them to maintain their innocence.
Echols filed a lawsuit in September 2021, claiming the West Memphis Police Department did not complied with multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, asking for information and evidence. Echols said he believed the department could have destroyed the evidence which could prove his innocence.
Echols' attorney said "missing" evidence was found Tuesday
Little Rock attorney Patrick Benca of McDaniel Wolff & Benca said in a news release that he reviewed the evidence Tuesday that was believed lost, damaged, or destroyed in the case. In the release, Benca said, “Echols' legal team was mysteriously misinformed and actually stonewalled for 18 months by the West Memphis Police Department and other law enforcement entities in Crittenden County.” He went on to say that when the team went to the West Memphis Police Department Tuesday, they found the evidence “very organized, catalogued, and intact.”
"We are pleased that the evidence is intact. We are planning to move ahead and test this evidence using the latest DNA technology available to hopefully identify the real killer(s) of the three children in 1993, and exonerate Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley,” said Benca.
Echols' attorneys filed a Motion for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in Crittenden County, seeking an expedited hearing.
West Memphis Police response to Echols' claims
We reached out to West Memphis police about Echols' claims, and they sent us the following statement:
“Chief Pope’s resignation is completely unrelated to the West Memphis three rumors being sent out on social media.
We have no vested interest in trying to withhold any evidence from anyone on either side. We will fully comply with any lawful request made regarding this case.
I am hopeful that this will bring closure to the families of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, Michael Moore, and justice is finally brought to light for Echols, Baldwin, Misskelley.
My prayers go out to the families of the victims and to everyone involved in trying to seek justice, restoration, and closure to this case,” said Mayor McClendon.
Chief Pope's history with West Memphis Police Department
Pope was named Chief of Police in West Memphis June 1, 2021, after Chief Eddie West announced his retirement for July 31, 2021, after 40 years of service to the community.
Before serving as West Memphis Police Chief, Pope was with the Shelby County Sherriff’s Office for more than 30 years.
The full resignation letter reads:
“I, Chief Michael D. Pope would like to resign from my position as Chief of Police for the City of West Memphis Police Department effective December 24, 2021. In part, I enjoyed serving Mayor McClendon and the citizens of this great City. It has truly been an honor serving as Chief for the first time that I have served. At this time in my life, I have other endeavors and goals that are pointing me in a different direction. Again, as always, Thank you for your leadership and support. Best wishes to the City of West Memphis, Arkansas.
I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to serve. If I can be of future service to you or the City of West Memphis Police Department, please let me know.
Michael D. Pope”