Interim chief’s past raises questions

Alex Hilkey, The NewsAlex Hilkey, The News

Dunaway’s tenure in Nashville police marred by demotions, controversy

Story by Alicia SteeleAssistant News Editor

Alex Hilkey, The News

Alex Hilkey, The News

Interim chief of police and director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, Roy Dunaway, who is a finalist for the permanent position, gave false testimony under oath during a high-profile murder trial ten years ago. 

The next year, Dunaway was investigated concerning a burglary of a Fraternal Order of Police camp in Wilson County, Tennessee. By July 2007, Dunaway had been demoted from detective, placed on restrictive duty and stripped of his law enforcement powers, according to documents from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.

It is unclear who at Murray State knew about the missteps in Dunaway’s past because the Nashville Police said officials there were not contacted when Murray State hired Dunaway as an officer in 2013.

University officials declined to discuss Dunaway’s background citing confidentiality of personal records.

Dunaway, who has served as the interim chief of police since June 2014 and is the president of the Kentucky Association of University Law Enforcement Administrators, refused multiple requests for comment.

In addition, Dunaway’s resumé makes no mention of his demotions. And the issues didn’t come up in a public forum March 31 when Dunaway interviewed with faculty, staff and students.

“It is a key position for the university, it is one that is obviously high profile and when we think about the university, a key consideration is the safety for our campus, for our faculty, our staff, our students,” President Bob Davies said. “It has a direct impact on our reputation and many attributes to the campus so I consider it to be a key hire.”

Davies said he did not participate in the search for chief of police candidates. However, he did interview the finalists and provided his insights, thoughts and comments to the search committee.

“The search committee will then determine how it proceeds in making a recommendation,” Davies said.

Davies said this position reports to the vice president of finance and administration, Jackie Dudley.

“Ultimately, it will be her decision as it is a direct report to her, but she and I will definitely talk and provide direct input when the final decision is made,” Davies said. “…And we have not had that discussion yet.”

Davies said Murray State’s policy when hiring for a new position is that the university’s human resources department conducts a formal background check after making an offer. The background check is completed before the person signs a final contract.

He said all candidates are vetted – investigated thoroughly – regardless of position, “as best they can.”

Dunaway became interim chief of police in June 2014 after David DeVoss retired from the position.

Dunaway joined the Murray State police force as an officer in 2013. However, Murray State did not consult the Nashville Police, whose records indicate that “no documents or files in the custody or control of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department were requested, examined or reviewed,” according to a letter sent to Randy Dunn, then-Murray State president, from Steve Anderson, the Nashville police chief.

“I am compelled to insure that this agency is on record as NOT being an active or passive participant in any ‘stringent background examination’ that may have been conducted as a part of this process,” Anderson wrote.


While working as a homicide detective for the Nashville police, Dunaway was the first to respond to a crime scene in Oak Hill, Tennessee. Belinda Mercer, a Nashville lawyer, faced murder charges in the shooting death of her husband. During the trial on Oct. 3, 2006, Dunaway testified that the defendant, Mercer, admitted to him that she had shot and killed her husband. However, the defense said from the beginning that she didn’t intend to shoot her husband.

After Dunaway’s testimony, the judge granted a mistrial.

“I stood up in front of the jury in an opening statement and said she’s denied this from day one,” Hal Hardin, Mercer’s attorney, told The News. “And he got up on the witness stand and said ‘I shot him, I shot him’ and the whole defense was that the gun accidentally went off.”

Hardin said a Nov. 2, 2006, article “Swear to Tell the Truth?” in Nashville Scene gives a full explanation of what happened. Dunaway was relegated to the position of patrol officer effective that week, the article said.

The article reported, according to the affidavit, Dunaway said he had been “working midnights” and he was taking cold medicine at the time of his testimony.

The Nashville Police’s Office of Professional Accountability completed the investigation of Dunaway’s conduct “that resulted in a mistrial in a homicide prosecution” in June 2007, according to a memorandum to then-Nashville chief of police, Ronal Serpas, from then Deputy Chief of Police Steve Anderson. 

Serpas, now a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, did not return multiple messages from The News.

In July, the Office of Professional Accountability presented Dunaway with a settlement offer to resign instead of be fired because of his false testimony.


Days before Nashville Police officials asked him to resign, Dunaway became a subject of another internal investigation. Dunaway had been acting as a liaison between the Nashville Police and the Teamsters union, when he reported “improprieties” being committed by Nashville police employees at a Fraternal Order of Police camp. But police supervisors investigated and found nothing, according to a Nashville Police memo regarding Dunaway.

Four days later, a former Nashville police lieutenant was arrested while burglarizing the FOP camp. Dunaway declined to be interviewed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and instead the bureau executed a search warrant on the Teamster’s headquarters and seized Dunaway’s computer.

On July 26, 2007, Dunaway’s assignment to the Teamster organization was terminated and Dunaway was decommissioned and placed on restricted duty.

However, he still lists on his resumé filed with Murray State that he remained an acting liaison officer until 2008.

Dunaway, when asked specifically in a follow-up email about a discrepancy on his resume, again refused to comment.


Dunaway is vying for the chief of police position against Robert L. Spinks, chief of police at McNeese State University in Louisiana; Klay Peterson, chief of police at the University of South Carolina Upstate; and James Herring Jr., retired chief of police at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 

All four finalists interviewed on campus between March 31 and April 11.

Joyce Gordon, director of Human Resources, said a search committee of university employees was responsible for reviewing applications.   

Gordon said the committee members also contact references and people who are not listed as references.

“As long as you are doing the same thing for each of the candidates you can call previous employers,” Gordon said.

University officials haven’t said when they plan to name the next chief of police.

“On an ongoing search, we really can’t because there’s a lot of stuff going on once finalists have been brought to campus, so not a real comment yet,” Gordon said. “But it will be announced publicly when that decision has been made.”