Bourbon County

Judge hears arguments in Paris officers’ appeals of suspensions

Luke Morgan, an attorney representing five suspended Paris police officers, stood Tuesday as he addressed Bourbon Circuit Court Judge Rob Johnson. Seated beside Morgan is attorney Daniel Whitley. Charles Cole, the attorney representing the city of Paris, is seated at far right.
Luke Morgan, an attorney representing five suspended Paris police officers, stood Tuesday as he addressed Bourbon Circuit Court Judge Rob Johnson. Seated beside Morgan is attorney Daniel Whitley. Charles Cole, the attorney representing the city of Paris, is seated at far right. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

A judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether to throw out or affirm the suspensions of five Paris police officers.

Bourbon Circuit Court Judge Rob Johnson’s ruling on the matter will come later.

Paris Police Chief Rob Williams had suspended the five officers on Feb. 9 and had recommended that the city commission fire them for spending too much time in a dispatch room. After a hearing in late February, the city commission chose less severe punishments and continued the suspensions for various lengths without pay.

The officers — Abdullah Bholat, Kevin Anderson, James P. Primm, Robert Puckett and Jon Humphries — appealed in Bourbon Circuit Court, alleging that they weren’t given due-process protections.

Puckett and Humphries remain on six-month suspensions; the others have completed their shorter suspensions. All the officers want to have the disciplinary actions removed from their personnel files and to receive back pay for the lengths of their suspensions.

“The fundamental, first part of this appeal is that these officers’ rights to a due-process hearing were violated,” Luke Morgan, an attorney for the officers, told the judge in court Tuesday.

For example, Morgan said, the officers weren’t allowed during the February hearing to cross-examine the police chief about why he sought their dismissals.

“All these officers want to do is to get all the facts out … and they were denied that opportunity,” Morgan said.

But Charles Cole, an attorney representing the city of Paris, said the suspensions should be affirmed by the judge.

The officers admitted that they spent too much time in the dispatch area, so there was evidence to support the city’s findings, Cole said. The commissioners also watched videos showing the officers in dispatch.

Cole said a circuit court review of the case should be based on the administrative record of the city commission hearing and any new evidence offered by the officers on whether the city acted arbitrarily, Cole said.

“These officers may feel they were suspended too long. That’s not for this court to review,” Cole said. “The test for arbitrariness in all reviews is the absence of substantial evidence to support the charges. Here we have admissions of guilt.”

Williams had said the officers should have been on the street patrolling rather than sitting in the dispatch room.

Cole read excerpts from the February hearing in which officers acknowledged that they were aware that they shouldn’t spend too much time in dispatch.

“Even under a prior chief, the officers knew they weren’t supposed to spend too much time in dispatch,” Cole said.

“There is certainly no enforcement of traffic laws if you’re sitting in dispatch for several hours at a time,” he said.

Morgan said the officers complied with the chief’s emailed directive to no longer hang out in the dispatch room.

The officers’ appeal alleges that the suspensions were in retaliation for their objections to going to 12-hour shifts.

Chief Williams “punished these officers for things that they had done prior to being warned by this email about ‘don’t hang out in dispatch too long,’” Morgan said.

“I think it’s important to note that the city wants to punish these officers for being in a police department,” Morgan said. “These guys were not hanging out at a doughnut shop. They weren’t hanging out at their house. They weren’t running down to Lexington. They were at ground zero. They were at the police station.”

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