Crime

Former Harrodsburg police chief may proceed with lawsuit, judge says

Former Harrodsburg Police Chief Rodney Harlow appeared in Mercer Circuit Court in Harrodsburg on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler did not grant Harlow's motion to be reinstated as police chief, but said Harlow could proceed with a lawsuit against the city. Harlow was fired as chief effective Dec. 31, 2011. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff

gkocher1@herald-leader.com
Former Harrodsburg Police Chief Rodney Harlow appeared in Mercer Circuit Court in Harrodsburg on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler did not grant Harlow's motion to be reinstated as police chief, but said Harlow could proceed with a lawsuit against the city. Harlow was fired as chief effective Dec. 31, 2011. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff gkocher1@herald-leader.com Greg Kocher | Staff

HARRODSBURG — Former Harrodsburg Police Chief Rodney Harlow may proceed with a lawsuit alleging that the city acted inappropriately when it fired him, but he will not be reinstated immediately, a judge ruled Monday.

Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler denied Harlow's motion for a temporary injunction that would have restrained the city from removing him and reinstated him as chief.

But Peckler said he would not dismiss Harlow's suit against the city.

In the suit, filed last month, Harlow said the Harrodsburg City Commission "failed and refused" to provide due process when it notified him Dec. 12 of his termination. Harlow remained as chief until Dec. 31, when the firing took effect.

The Harrodsburg City Commission hired Billy White nack, a former deputy sheriff in Mercer and Anderson counties, as Harlow's successor. Whitenack has been chief since Jan. 1.

In his lawsuit, Harlow argued that he was covered by a law, known as the policeman's bill of rights, that entitles officers to written notice of violations, a hearing and appeals when fired for specific charges.

But Charles Cole, the attorney representing the city, citing a state Supreme Court ruling and state attorney general's opinions, said that law did not apply to Harlow because he was not a full-time member of the department.

Brad Guthrie, Harlow's attorney, contended the city of Harrodsburg's ordinance regarding non-elected positions included the chief of police, with no distinction for the number of hours worked.

The commission hired Harlow as a "part-time police chief," even though its ordinance did not allow that. Several employees with the police department wrote letters saying Harlow worked 40 to 60 hours per week.

Cole said Kentucky's granting of home-rule authority to cities in the 1980s allows the city to fire a police chief.

Guthrie countered, saying the policeman's-bill-of-rights law applies to officers of local units of government who receive Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program funds, which the Harrodsburg department does, he said. The program provides bonuses to officers who complete specified amounts of annual training.

Guthrie also argued that Harrodsburg used its "sham" part-time position and hiring process to "circumvent" due-process notifications. The failure of the city to tell Harlow of citizen complaints against him as grounds for the firing demonstrates "its intent to act against him by any means," Guthrie wrote in a response opposing dismissal of the suit.

The judge said he was not willing to dismiss the suit because there were still questions about a possible wrongful termination of Harlow.

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