In April, Crystal Moore was fired in what she said was a decision driven by homophobia. Now the town of Latta, South Carolina, has voted to alter the structure of its government and hire her back as police chief, in the process weakening the powers of the mayor who put her on the chopping block.
Latta, home to the historic Catfish Creek Baptist Church, is a predominantly white town of 1,500 in Dillon County. Moore—who is openly gay and wears loose polo shirts and has cropped, spiky hair—had served, apparently without incident, in the town’s police department for 23 years before her April firing.
Earl Bullard, Latta’s graying mayor, allegedly has a reputation for being intolerant of the gay community. A recording exists of a man, said to be Bullard, snapping in a Southern drawl: “I would much rather have—and I will say this to anybody’s face—I would much rather have somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children, because that ain’t the damn way that it’s supposed to be.”
When Moore heard the recording after Bullard fired her, she told WMBF News, “That’s crushing…My lifestyle has nothing to do with my job. It’s not a lifestyle to me. I’m in a loving, committed relationship, and that’s what it is—it’s my personal life. It should have never been brought to work.”
In tears, Moore said, “All those years, I’ve been going in, doing what I know is right and what was just for the people…All I did was my job.”
Bullard maintained that Moore’s sexual orientation had “not a thing” to do with her firing, but many were not so convinced, including Moore. (In South Carolina, it is legal to fire a person for being gay.) In an interview on MSNBC, she recalled being warned that Bullard might not like her because she was gay. “Since he had been mayor, there had been some accusations,” she said.
Bullard did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.
Latta’s residents and council rallied in support of Moore. Soon after her firing, the town council voted unanimously to block Bullard from hiring another police chief for 60 days, to give Moore time to get her position back. Stand with Chief Moore, a Facebook group formed to support her, garnered more than 2,200 likes.
And on Tuesday, after Bullard repeatedly refused to reinstate Moore, the residents of Latta passed a referendum changing the structure of the town from “mayor-strong” to “council-strong,” meaning the council’s power would exceed Bullard’s. After the ballots are certified Friday, the council plans to rehire Moore as police chief.
Moore told the Morning News that “words can’t describe” her happiness at Tuesday’s results.
The publication quoted a voter as saying, “We got our town back. We got our chief back.”
However, in what Moore’s supporters on Facebook called a “last act of defiance,” Bullard on Wednesday hired another new police chief. According to the Morning News, Bullard has not provided members of the Latta council with any information about the new chief.