Familiar face: Owens takes acting chief role

Published 8:20 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018

By Ken Stickney


The Port Arthur City Council appointed Deputy Police Chief John Owens as acting chief Tuesday night while the city leadership seeks a new, permanent leader for the department.

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“My goal, my objective, is to establish trust through a true relationship with the community,” Owens said after the meeting. “That’s a philosophical thing: You implement it from the line officer to top management.”

Former Chief Patrick Melvin resigned Friday, concluding some 20 months of frequently tumultuous leadership. The City Council formally accepted Patrick’s resignation in a special meeting prior to the regular City Council meeting.

There was no tumult among City Council members, though, as they OK’d Owens’ appointment as acting chief; the vote was unanimous and the choice drew enthusiastic audience applause within the City Council chambers.

Hired in 2016 as a change agent to clean up the department and make it more accountable, Melvin encountered difficulty when he made dramatic steps in an effort to accomplish that.

Among those ousted or demoted during Melvin’s oversight of the department was Owens, who, with four others, was named in an affidavit alleging wrongdoing within the department. Detective Elie Van Horn, citing the Texas Whistleblower Act, filed the affidavit, sworn and notarized, in February 2017 which suggested department issues ranging from obstruction or retaliation and misuse of official information to official oppression.

Others included in that affidavit were Deputy Chief Raymond Clark, Sgt. Scott Gaspard, Sgt. Kris Boneau and Detective Mickey Sterling.

Owens was later reinstated to the department as a lieutenant and reassigned to other duties. He was elevated to deputy chief May 14 when the position became open, a move that seemed to please Melvin, who said Owens’ experience, knowledge and leadership would enhance both the department and the Office of Emergency Management, which he would lead. It also seemed to satisfy interim City Manager Harvey Robinson, who said the department needed additional leadership experience.

Tuesday’s council action included an executive session within a special meeting to deliberate the duties, responsibilities and employment of the chief; then a public vote at the regular meeting that followed to hire Owens.

The acting chief, 63, has served the Port Arthur Police Department for almost 35 years. He said he would serve until the city manager and City Council hires a permanent chief, “whenever that takes place.”

He’ll oversee a department with 128 sworn officers and continue to serve in his emergency management role.