Archive for Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Police officer’s complaints could be resolved

April 3, 2002

Dennis Hawver, the attorney for the four Baldwin City Police Officers who are contemplating lawsuits against the city, believes that litigation can be avoided.

Hawver said Tuesday afternoon that his clients Cpl. Bill Dempsey and officers Chuck Woolsencroft, Eric Garcia and Chuck Hensley have felt like "political shuttlecocks," caught in the middle of a game of badminton over whether Police Chief Steve Butell should remain in his position. The officers want out of the middle and want a return to normalcy, he said.

If that happened, Hawver said each of the officer's $300,000 lawsuits claiming first and 14th amendment violations by the city may not make it into court.

"If we can get this thing resolved, that could happen," said Hawver. "I will talk to my clients and if things are better, I'm not convinced they want to go to federal court. It's a hassle and it's expensive.

"These guys don't want to litigate," he said. "Talk about a blotch on their record."

However, Hawver wasn't so sure how the matter could be resolved. He was open to the suggestion that the parties involved the officers, Mayor Ken Hayes, City Administrator Larry Paine, Butell and the entire city council could get together to talk the situation out. The result would need to be a change in attitudes directed towards his clients.

"If there was not so much petty bickering on the part of city officials, which has fallout on my clients," he said. "They want to be police officers for the city of Baldwin City.

"The city has 120 days to make a move," Hawver said of the response needed to be made by the city concerning the complaints that have been filed. "In my opinion, if things got back to normal and the politicians would just back off and let them do their jobs, if things calmed down and got quiet, if people weren't taking pot shots at them in the paper and on the Internet, I think my clients would say good."

He alluded that the lawsuits might go away as a result, but wouldn't say it.

"I have no authority to say the lawsuits will go away," Hawver said.

Dempsey has directed all questions to Hawver, claiming he has not been treated fairly.

As for the city's response to the possibility of the lawsuits going away, it's one of cautious optimism.

"I don't know that I can really give you a response," said Hayes. "My first instinct is I would love to do that (meet with all parties involved), but I smell a trap. Why do you do what they did (in filing the complaints) and then say this?

"We've always been available to discuss the situation. They could have always talked to Larry about it," he said. "We were not the ones that chose to go the legal route. They always had the choice. What do they want me to do? How are we suppose to make them feel comfortable? I do not understand at this stage of the game how I can make them feel comfortable."

The council did not discuss the possible litigation during Monday's meeting. Paine was also guarded in his comments.

"If the other party gave me a credible proposal (for resolution), I have the responsibility to give it to our legal counsel and our city council," said Paine. "That's exactly where we were at when Dempsey brought me the tape."

Paine's reference to the tape is the tape recording Dempsey made of the mayor, who was unaware it was happening, in January. The transcript of that tape was in last week's Signal. He said he's sure the council would be open to a credible proposal.

"The city council needs to know what we're getting into," Paine said. "They would be open to hearing it. After that, I don't have a clue."

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