EPD officer resigns

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Richardson recently reinstated after ‘procedural error’ during termination proceedings

By Marty Finley

Officer James Richardson resigned Wednesday following a reinstatement by the Elizabethtown Police Department.

The city noted a mistake in his termination proceedings, an open records request filed by The News-Enterprise revealed.

“The city recognized a procedural error regarding the hearing process and reinstated Officer Richardson, with the administrative status for wage purposes of being on suspension with pay,” the city said in a written statement obtained through the open records request. “Officer Richardson subsequently tendered his resignation effective Jan. 25, 2013, thereby removing any requirement for a hearing before the Civil Service Commission.”

Richardson appealed his termination to the commission and a hearing was set for Thursday. However, the matter was resolved beforehand when the two parties signed a mutual compromise and settlement agreement, in which the city agreed to rescind its termination of Richardson and reinstate him to the status of a paid suspension. The city also agreed to set aside any pending charges against Richardson and will pay all due back and front pay in one lump sum with all normal withholdings except insurance and retirement.

According to the agreement, the city will inform any inquiring parties that Richardson resigned without charges pending.

In exchange, Richardson agreed to resign, effective midnight Friday, and would forgo any legal recourse against the city and the police department.

If either party fails to meet the terms of the agreement, it would result in a breach and legal or other recourses could be taken.

Mike Moulton, Richardson’s attorney, argued the department unlawfully terminated his client and violated his rights for due process by denying him a hearing with the civil service commission before his termination.

Moulton in a letter to the commission said the commission’s rules and regulations contain no provision for the police chief or other city entity to remove or terminate an officer.

City Attorney D. Dee Shaw gave credence to Moulton’s argument in a response.

“The Elizabethtown Police Department made every attempt to exactly follow statutory law and procedure,” Shaw stated. “However upon further review and examination it appears that the better course to follow, according to law, might have been not to confuse the process with the indication of termination, but rather to clearly indicate the effective suspension without pay pending final determination by the Civil Service Commission.”

Moulton also stated the hearing could be construed as prejudicial because the commission is appointed by the mayor, who supported the termination.

In his resignation letter to Police Chief Tracy Schiller, Richardson wrote the separation is in his best interest and was submitted of his own free will.

“I am thankful to the police department for the opportunities the department has provided me,” he stated in the letter.

Schiller suspended Richardson with pay Nov. 26 and terminated his employment Dec. 1, citing a violation of standard operating procedures after an investigation by the police department claimed Richardson lied under oath.

Schiller stated in a letter to Richardson that his actions impaired his ability to continue in the role of a sworn police officer and compromised his ability to testify in court, where he is expected to be truthful at all times.

“Your conduct in this matter has severely impugned the integrity of the Elizabethtown Police Department, and you as a member who is sworn to uphold and abide by the laws of this state and our constitution,” Schiller stated in the letter.

The investigation was spurred by a complaint from Fred Halberg, who was pulled over June 28, 2012, on North Mulberry Street for speeding while riding his Yamaha motorcycle, according to investigation records. Richardson cited Halberg for driving 60 mph, which Halberg challenged, maintaining his speed was below 50 mph. Halberg asked to view the radar, a request Richardson denied, and told Richardson he would see him in court.

Halberg also informed Richardson he planned to take up the matter with the department’s on-duty supervisor. In statements made to Sgt. Brian Graham during the investigation, Halberg claimed Richardson agreed to follow him to the police station after the traffic stop but never arrived.

During a Hardin District Court trial on July 30, 2012, Halberg asked Richardson why he failed to follow him to the police station. According to the transcript of the trial, Richardson said he did not follow Halberg because he received another call for service.

Halberg was found guilty for speeding and later filed an open records request with EPD requesting call logs for the day he was pulled over by Richardson. In the interview with Graham, Halberg argued Richardson committed perjury because the logs showed no calls for service during the specified time period.

Graham in his report said his investigation verified Halberg’s claim.

“Officer Richardson did not have another call for service to go on,” Graham stated in the report. “I cannot find any calls for service that involved Officer Richardson during this time period.”

During an interview with Graham, Richardson said there was no need for him to accompany Halberg to the station because his presence would have escalated the tension.

When asked if Richardson’s resignation could jeopardize other court cases, Shaw said yes, noting several misdemeanor and traffic cases likely will be dismissed without his testimony. Had Richardson remained on the force, Shaw said, Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham would have had to disclose to defense counsel the fact that Richardson’s honesty as a police officer had been called into question, which would severely compromise her ability to prosecute.

Oldham did not return calls made by The News-Enterprise seeking comment for this story.

Shaw said the city harbors no ill will toward Richardson and wishes him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Schiller said he is content with the results.

“This has been an issue concerning public trust and our duty to ensure that we continually and faithfully make every effort to safeguard the trust and confidence given to us by our community,” Schiller said. “I truly believe that the outcome of this matter has fulfilled that duty and has ended in a manner that is satisfactory to all.”

In the past five years, Richardson earned honors in the Governor’s Impaired Driving Enforcement Awards and was one of 70 certified drug recognition experts in the state. Raised in Summit, Richardson previously served as a traffic investigator with the U.S. Army.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.