Archive for Thursday, August 26, 2004

Judge dismisses police lawsuits

August 26, 2004

U.S. District Court Judge Carlos Murguia granted the City of Baldwin City's request for summary judgment regarding lawsuits filed by former and current police officers and dismissed the case last week.

The lawsuits were filed in January 2003 by former officers Bill Dempsey and Chuck Woolsoncroft and current officers Erica Garcia and Chuck Hensley. The foursome was claiming violation of the 1st and 14th amendment rights and sought relief in excess of $75,000 apiece.

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Their attorney, Dennis Hawver of Ozwakie, was surprised by the ruling and said he hasn't discussed whether to appeal it with his clients.

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Hawver. "An appeal is possible. This is simply a decision of a judge that didn't fully consider the law. We will be doing that (discussing appeal) in the next week or so.

"They are disappointed and I certainly am," he said. "We're not happy. We have 30 days to appeal."

Reaction from city officials was low key.

"I think the official comment is we are pleased with the decision, but other than that, not much comment at this time," said City Administrator Jeff Dingman.

Dingman said the city will take a wait-and-see stance during the 30 days.

"That is correct," he said.

City Attorney Matt Hoy's only comment was in regard to the judge's ruling.

"The judge has ruled on the city's request for summary judgment," said Hoy. "At this point, we have no further comment. We would let the judge's order speak for itself."

Mayor Ken Hayes, who has been at the heart of the issue since the police department came in question back in July of 2001, was pleased with the decision. The 14th amendment allegation stemmed from the due process through the city's appeal process for discipline handed down to the four officers. The 1st amendment freedom of speech claim involved a memo directing the officers to follow chain of command with their complaints instead of going to city council members.

"We're very pleased with the judge's decision," said Hayes. "The validation of the city's grievance procedures and policies by a court of law is significant.

"We have made great strides towards building a well respected police department and we hope to continue to make further strides in the area of law enforcement," he said.

Police Chief Mike McKenna, who took over the department in 2003 and was not involved in the discipline matters, also was happy with the decision.

"Obviously, we're pleased with the decision from the court and we hope now we can put this behind us and continue on the track of rebuilding the department that we've been on in making a better and stronger department for the community," said McKenna.

The whole matter started in July of 2001 when the officers raised concerns about a former officer who resigned not long after the issues were raised.

"This simply comes down to concern over an officer for the community," said Hawver, the officers' attorney. "They've (officers) done a great service for the community and got nothing but abuse for it."

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