An ongoing dispute between Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner and town council candidate David Rich over minority hiring in the Middletown Police Department erupted into a heated exchange during Monday's town council meeting.

An ongoing dispute between Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner and town council candidate David Rich over minority hiring in the Middletown Police Department erupted into a heated exchange during Monday’s town council meeting.

The confrontation began about five minutes into the meeting when Rich asked to comment on Middletown Police Chief Henry Tobin III’s monthly police report.

“This is about a crime that hasn’t been reported so I wanted to systematically put this out in my own way, please,” Rich said before starting his comments with an outline of his professional background and personal history in Middletown.

“This is a political speech,” Branner interrupted. “You mentioned crime. I’m not asking for a biography … Get to the question about the police report.”

Rich continued until Branner again interrupted him after he  stated, “For decades, blacks in this community have been treated as second-hand citizens.”

“The question is on the police report, not about the fact you’re running for council,” Branner said. “I’m not going allow this ... I’m going to accept the police report and you can speak under new business.”

Rich, however, continued his comments by claiming the police department’s hiring practices have cost taxpayers “thousands of dollars.”

“As far as I’m concerned, that is a crime,” he said.

The two men continued to bicker after Rich claimed those costs were incurred when the town recently sent a pair of white police officers through academy training instead of a black police officer with prior experience.

“Stop right now or I’ll have you escorted out of here,” Branner told Rich. “You’re embarrassing yourself … You’ll be quiet, you’ll sit down and we will pick up with you under new business.”

Rich eventually relented, and was allowed to continue his comments later in the meeting.

“This is not some political scheme,” he said. “Two years ago, I approached the mayor and the chief of police regarding the lack of diversity on the Middletown Police Department and this has continued to be an issue.”

Rich first publicly raised his concerns in a letter to the editor published in the April 24 edition of the Middletown Transcript in which he argued that the police department’s racial makeup is no longer reflective of the general community.

Branner and Middletown Police Chief Henry Tobin III co-authored a response that appeared in the May 1 edition of the Transcript in which they claimed the town has made “every effort to recruit minority candidates,” including attending career days at Delaware State University and events sponsored by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Currently, the department includes two black officers, a Hispanic officer and an Asian officer. That’s down from 2007 when the department was launched with four black and two Hispanic officers.

“There are discriminatory hiring practices in the Middletown Police Department,” Rich said Monday. “Whether you want to believe it or not, mayor, I’m telling you facts.”

Branner said any alleged bias in the department’s hiring process would be raised by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which is currently reviewing the department to determine whether to award its first-ever certification to the agency.

“We had exit interviews on everybody that’s left and not one of them left because of racial or diversity issues,” he said. “It’s a national issue getting officers of color to join police forces. And one of the issues we have is once we send them through the academy the state and county [police departments] come and get them, and that’s why we lose officers.”

Rich is one of four candidates running to finish the 10 months remaining of former town councilman David Fisher’s two-year term. He will face Richard “Rick” Catterton Jr., Andrew Chas and Isaac Daniels in a May 15 special election.