But the close-knit community of roughly 3,200 people just west of Tulsa won’t be seeing the two men together anymore. Nealey, 49, was arrested in the Florida Panhandle early Monday and charged with killing the 44-year-old chief in what police allege was an alcohol-fueled hotel room fight over the weekend. Miller and Nealey were in Florida for a law enforcement conference.
The shocking news has left the small Oklahoma city with more questions than answers, Buttram said.
“If this tragedy would have happened serving a police warrant or pulling somebody over … that’s the kind of stuff you can wrap your head around,” Buttram said. “But when two friends go to training class together, you just don’t expect something like this to happen. It just doesn’t make sense. Not two best friends.”
Authorities in Florida are still trying to piece together what exactly happened before they discovered Miller’s body in a room at a Hilton in Pensacola Beach on Sunday night, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Melony Peterson told The Post. As of late Monday, Peterson said Nealey had not given any statements to investigators and remains in jail without bond. Records did not indicate whether Nealey has an attorney.
While it is unclear what prompted the deadly fight, Peterson said both men had been drinking beforehand. Hotel security received reports early Sunday evening that Miller and Nealey were being disruptive, according to the Tulsa World. Then, police were called to the hotel around 9:50 p.m., Peterson said.
“It was a physical altercation and that’s how he died,” she said of Miller, noting that no weapon was found in the room. Peterson declined to comment on the extent of Miller’s injuries.
Back in Mannford, word of Miller’s death and Nealey’s arrest had people reeling.
“Nobody truly knows what happened,” Buttram said. “That’s what makes it so difficult. What in the world could have ever caused this? We just don’t know.”
Officer Jerry Ridley, the police department’s interim chief, told KOTV that one of his fellow officers called him around 1:30 a.m. Monday to relay the news from authorities in Florida.
“I’ve been doing this a very long time, and I’ve never received a phone call even close to this,” said Ridley, whose new role was announced Monday.
Miller had led the police department since 2007 and Nealey joined the force in 2015, Buttram told The Post. The mayor added that both men were well liked by the city’s residents and described them as “outstanding police officers.”
During his 12 years as chief overseeing the department’s seven other police officers, Miller developed a reputation for his dedication to helping others, Ridley told the Tulsa World.
“He had an open-door policy,” Ridley said. “If you were having a problem, you could go in and talk to him, and he’d try to help fix it. And he was a leader that led by example and not by telling you what to do.”
It was Miller’s “hands-on” nature that motivated him to join Nealey for the special training in Florida, where they were supposed to spend several days this week learning more about death-scene investigations, Ridley said. On Monday, Carterson Public Safety Group, which hosts the conference, posted a statement to its website addressing the incident and extending “condolences to the families and agency of those involved.”
By late Monday, social media was filled with tributes to Miller, who left behind a wife and three children.
“He was a good man,” one person wrote on Facebook. “Always there if you needed him. Prayers for his family. So, so sad.”
“A huge loss to our community,” another person commented.
The news also prompted an outpouring of support from law enforcement agencies across the state, several of which sent their own officers to Mannford on Monday night to help patrol the city, Buttram told The Post.
As the community continues to recover, Buttram said it was important to remember that “two lives have been affected in this awful tragedy.”
“I don’t think anything is comparable. I just don’t know that anything could be,” he said. “We basically lost two great men today. Two families, two wives, a whole bunch of kids lost their fathers today. One permanently and who knows about the other one.”
Nealey is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 5, according to jail records.