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Conservative S.C. town rallies for fired gay police chief

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 9:33 p.m.

LATTA, S.C. — When openly gay police Chief Crystal Moore was fired by a mayor who condemned her lifestyle as “questionable,” she expected her two-decade career in law enforcement was over.

Then, this conservative small town rebelled.

The people of Latta, who voted overwhelmingly for a state amendment banning gay marriage eight years ago, turned against the mayor, stripped him of his powers and rehired Moore. They said her dedication to the town mattered more than her sexual orientation.

Residents remembered Moore's civic spirit from as far back as 1989, when Hurricane Hugo tore through Latta. She was a high school student working part time as a police dispatcher and helped cut downed tree limbs to clean up the debris. In February, when an ice storm crippled the town and left it without power for days, Moore piled her officers in her SUV and checked on as many people as she could.

“That's Crystal. All she does is help people. I don't get why he fired her. Maybe it's the ignorant people who talk the loudest. She was the same great Crystal yesterday as she is today, and she'll be the same person tomorrow,” lifelong Latta resident Dottie Walters said.

Mayor Earl Bullard vehemently denied that he fired Moore because she was gay. Instead, he said she was dismissed for “sheer insubordination” during the three months he was her boss.

Moore said she hadn't received a single reprimand during her career until Bullard presented her with seven the day she was fired. Word of her termination spread fast in this tobacco hub of about 1,400 people, just off Interstate 95.

The support for Moore grew when Town Councilman Jarett Taylor started secretly recording his conversations with the mayor, which is legal in South Carolina. Taylor said he learned not to trust the mayor because he would tell him something and later deny he ever said it.

In a conversation released to reporters after Moore was fired in April, the mayor said: “I'd 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 it's supposed to be.”

Bullard, who has avoided reporters for much of the past three months, said that was him on the tape. And he offered no apologies.

“I don't like the homosexual ways portrayed in front of children,” Bullard said. “You can't explain to a 5-year-old why another child has two mommies or two daddies.”

Since his story made headlines, Bullard said he had received a stack of hate mail that was “probably an inch-and-a-half thick.”

Within days of Moore's firing, the town council passed a vote of confidence in her, demanding the mayor hire her back. They also set up an election that would strip the mayor of his power.

Last month, 69 percent of 475 voters approved of taking the mayor's power away. It's not clear what he is going to do next. He ran unopposed in 2013 and still has three years left on his term.

When Moore returned to work June 30, people honked their car horns and gave her thumbs up as she drove around in her police SUV.

“Crystal is a good chief, and she loves this town,” Taylor said.

State unemployment officials sided with Moore as well, voting she was fired without cause and thus eligible for back pay and benefits for the two months she didn't have a job.

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