DENHAM SPRINGS — After denying three motions to dismiss the disciplinary action against former Police Chief Scott Jones or to disqualify the city attorney from arguing the case, the city’s Civil Service Board began hearing testimony in the chief’s appeal of his termination Tuesday night.
The city contends Jones violated state law and departmental policy in allowing Councilman Chris Davis to be issued a summons, rather than being arrested, on a count of domestic abuse battery following a Jan. 15 altercation with his wife.
After a committee investigated the handling of Davis’ case, Mayor Gerard Landry recommended Jones be fired immediately April 7. The City Council upheld that decision in a 4-1 vote, with Davis casting the lone “no” vote.
Attorney Benjamin Chapman, of Milling Benson Woodward, argued on Jones’ behalf Tuesday night that the city’s investigation violated the chief’s rights under a set of state laws commonly called the Police Officer Bill of Rights.
Chapman said the mayor began investigating the chief on Jan. 18, a month before the Feb. 17 notice of investigation the city gave the chief the day Landry placed him on administrative leave. The investigation was not concluded until April 7, when the chief was fired, Chapman said.
That time frame well exceeds the 60-day limit set by state law for investigating a civil service employee and violated the chief’s right to receive timely notice of the investigation, Chapman said.
Chapman asked that the case be dismissed and the chief reinstated with back pay because any violation of the Police Officer Bill of Rights automatically nullifies the disciplinary action taken.
But City Attorney Stephanie Hulett said an investigation begins only once the city “has an eye toward discipline, demotion or dismissal” — a point she said was not reached until Feb. 17.
Chapman said the city clearly had an eye toward discipline before then because Landry and Hulett met with the chief and his second-in-command, Capt. Steve Kistler, who also was fired, on Jan. 28 to question them about the matter.
Chapman also argued the case should be dismissed on the ground the city failed to adequately inform him of the reasons for his termination. The city gave Jones a letter with six bases for his termination and attached a copy of the investigative committee’s report with 11 findings.
Chapman said neither the letter nor the report were specific as to date, place or even the players involved in some of the allegations.
The Civil Service Board voted 4-1 to deny both motions to dismiss, subject to reconsideration after hearing evidence.
The board also denied a request to have Hulett disqualified as the city’s attorney in the hearing. Chapman’s co-counsel, Amy McInnis, argued Hulett cannot serve as both the city’s attorney and a witness in the hearing.
Hulett said Chapman subpoenaed her as a witness because she was a member of the investigative committee but could get the same information from the other two committee members. She argued hiring private counsel now, as the hearing is getting underway, would cause undue hardship on the city.
The board voted unanimously not to disqualify Hulett.
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