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Attorney for fired police officers will seek appointment of new Appeals Board, another hearing

By Bill Short

Flag City LogoThe attorney for two fired Millington police officers will ask the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to appoint a new Personnel Appeals Board and schedule another hearing for each of them.
In a Jan. 6 letter to Mayor Terry Jones, City Manager Ed Haley and City Attorney Charles Perkins, Jeff Ward of Munford noted that the three-member PAB issued a written decision on Dec. 23, 2015 unanimously affirming Haley’s dismissal of Charles Coleman and Tully Reed.
Ward stated that, shortly before Christmas Day 2015, he learned that PAB Chairman Thomas McGhee is a “sitting alderman.”
He cited Section 5.05 of the City Charter, which states that the aldermen will deal with city employees only through the city manager, except for “the purpose of obtaining information” so they can fulfill their duties.
Ward noted that, at its Sept. 14, 2015 meeting, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen appointed McGhee to the PAB in advance of the hearings for Coleman and Reed.
Board members took the action by a 4-3 vote, with McGhee abstaining, Aldermen Mike Caruthers, Frankie Dakin and Hank Hawkins dissenting and Jones casting the tie-breaker.
Shortly before the vote, during the portion of the meeting designated for Public Comments, Debra Sigee of 4181 Bennett Wood Drive recalled that she was appointed to the PAB in December 2013 to replace McGhee, because he was elected as an alderman.
Requesting that her replacement be “someone other” than McGhee, Sigee called his reappointment a conflict of interest and a “blatant disregard” for the intent of the Charter.
But declaring that there is no conflict, Perkins said it would only be an “issue” if one of the city department directors requested a hearing, because they are hired and fired by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
In his letter, Ward said it appears that Coleman and Reed have been used as “scapegoats” in order to avoid the “long mismanagement and neglect” at the police department. He called the action of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen “more proof of that likelihood.”
Ward also said that, on the evening of Jan. 1, PAB member Danny Brown visited Coleman at his residence “ostensibly to discuss” the hearings conducted in October 2015.
He said Brown described visiting the police department with other PAB members to investigate the “10 most important issues” that concerned the board.
In his letter, Ward said Brown told Coleman that eight of the issues “still existed even after” the hearings were concluded.
“I do not know the date of the inspection by the Appeals Board,” he wrote. “It is my understanding that no person has been disciplined for any inaction, and the procedures of signing in and out of the Evidence Room are still not being followed properly.”
Ward said this “only bolsters the belief” that Coleman and Reed are “nothing more than scapegoats” and continue to be treated “unequally under the law” and the city’s rules and regulations.
He said he hopes to address these matters with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen as soon as possible and avoid a “lengthy, expensive and embarrassing court proceeding.”
Earlier this week, Jones and Haley both declined to comment on Ward’s letter. But Perkins said the “appropriate place” to deal with that appeal is Shelby County Chancery Court. Last year, when Millington resident Jimmy Wayne Smith died of natural causes, officers who investigated the death found approximately $20,000 in his mobile home. The money was placed in the Property and Evidence Room at the police department.
On Aug. 20, 2015, when Smith’s family came to retrieve the money, more than $12,000 was missing.
The next day, Haley began an investigation when he went to the police department and took photographs of the property room. He also interviewed then-Police Chief Frank Tennant and several officers in the department’s Criminal Investigation Division.
As a lieutenant, Reed was the “evidence officer,” and Coleman was his supervisor as an inspector in charge of the CID.  With Haley’s approval, Perkins called Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich and asked her to contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe regarding the missing money.
After his investigation, Haley concluded that Coleman and Reed had been “negligent” in the performance of their duty to follow the “established protocols” regarding the property and evidence functions in the police department.
On Aug. 31, 2015, a city official hand-delivered a check for the full amount due to Smith’s family. Tennant resigned the next day, and Haley fired Coleman and Reed soon after that.
At separate hearings conducted on Oct. 26 and 27, 2015, the two men asked the PAB to revoke Haley’s decision and reinstate them with back pay and applicable benefits.
Based on the evidence presented at the hearings, including the appellants’ testimony, the PAB decided that the charges made against Coleman and Reed were “valid and grounds for termination.”
The decision states that they were “negligent and incompetent” in the performance of their duties and “acted in a way as to put the city in jeopardy.” It also notes that they “assumed a level of authority that obligated” them to protect and preserve evidence.

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