December 11, 2003


Appeals board upholds decision to fire officer

A three-person appeals board unanimously reaffirmed a decision by Village Manager Rob Hillard to fire former police officer Matt Williams earlier this year.

But one of Williams’s attorneys, Jeffrey Shulman, criticized the timing of the hearing, calling it a “waste of time” since Williams has another appeal pending in a Greene County court.

The Village appeals board, which held a closed hearing on Nov. 14 to consider Williams’s appeal of the termination, said that Williams did engage in misconduct during and related to a traffic stop on Feb. 14, 2002, and that his conduct “would constitute ‘just cause’ for discharge” under provisions in the Village’s personnel policy manual.

Williams, who was hired as a part-time officer in May 1998 and moved up to full-time a year later, filed an appeal of the board’s decision in Greene County Common Pleas Court on Dec. 4. The appeal names as defendants the Village, Hillard and the appeals board, which consisted of the chairman, Len Kramer, a member of the Village Mediation Program Steering Committee; Barbara Boettcher, an attorney who served on the Village Police Chief Search Committee; and Kent Bristol, a former Village manager who is now the director of the Miami Valley Communications Council.

The ad hoc appeals board issued its four-page report on Nov. 28. Jane Beach, an attorney representing the panel, released the document, along with a copy of Williams’s new appeal, to the News on Dec. 5 after the paper requested the report.

The three panel members declined to comment on their decision, saying that they had nothing to add to the report. Kramer did say that the process was “difficult but not impossible.” Boettcher said that she thought it was a “good process” and noted that the board members had to meet three times to discuss the appeal.

Beach, an attorney with Green and Green Lawyers in Dayton, said that because the matter is still in litigation she is “not at liberty to discuss the substance” of the decision or Williams’s new appeal.

The appeals board held a hearing to consider whether it was appropriate for the Village to fire Williams. According to the report issued by the panel, the board heard testimony from Williams; his girlfriend Catherine Allinikov, who has said that she was in Williams’s car on the night of the alleged incident; Nya Williams, one of the women involved in the traffic stop that morning; and Captain John Grote. Attorneys representing Williams and the Village presented arguments. The appeals board also requested a copy of Williams’s personnel file.

The board said it found that Williams engaged in “serious official misconduct” on Feb 14, 2002. The board also said that given the previous warnings the Police Department issued to Williams during his career here, the Village was “justified in terminating” Williams because the misconduct was the “culmination of a series of cumulated offenses” during his time on the force.

Another of Williams’s attorneys, Kevin Bowman, disputed the appeals board’s claim that the Police Department gave Williams previous warnings. He said that the Village did not follow its “progressive disciplinary process,” which, he indicated, weakens the findings by the Village and appeals panel.

“ When we get to court that will be really, really, really easy to prove,” he said.

Hillard fired Williams on Jan. 2, 2003, after an internal investigation conducted by former Police Chief Jim Miller alleged that Williams was dishonest about, misused his power during and filed a false report about a traffic stop during the early morning hours on Feb 14.

Miller, who retired in September, said that Williams made the stop without probable cause and was “not truthful” about the incident. The Village held a “pre-disciplinary hearing,” overseen by a neutral hearing officer, to consider the allegations. The hearing officer, Michael Hammond, a former municipal manager, agreed with Miller’s conclusions.

Williams’s attorneys have denied the allegations, and his attorneys have argued that the actions Williams is accused of committing did not warrant dismissal, especially since, they have said, the Village fired Williams nearly 10 months after the incident allegedly took place.

In its report, the appeals panel said that the Village provided a “satisfactory explanation” for the long investigation and that it considered the Village’s disciplinary action “prompt” in this case.

Williams appealed the Village’s decision at the end of January, claiming that the Village violated his right to due process because the Village did not provide Williams with a post-termination hearing to challenge and appeal his dismissal. He also asked the court to reinstate him on the Yellow Springs police force.

In September Judge Stephen A. Wolaver of the Greene County Common Pleas Court ruled that the Village had to provide employees with a mechanism to appeal decisions that have an adverse economic impact on Village staff. Judge Wolaver ordered Village Council to arrange a hearing for Williams based on a provision in the Village Charter that allows discharged employees to appeal their dismissal before an appeals panel. The judge’s decision led to last month’s hearing.

The Village had argued that the Charter provision was no longer applicable and that the appropriate venue in which Williams should appeal his dismissal was the Common Pleas Court.

Shulman, who works at the law firm Seblay, Shillito & Dyer, criticized the Village for holding the hearing last month while Williams has another appeal pending with the Greene County Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate District.

In a phone interview Monday, Shulman said that Williams appealed Judge Wolaver’s decision because they believe the appropriate remedy was to reinstate Williams on the Yellow Springs police force, not to have a hearing before a Village appeals panel. He said that the “appropriate thing for the Village to have done” was to allow the appellate court to consider Williams’s case before holding its own hearing.

Shulman called the Village’s decision to hold the hearing last month “ill-advised” and a “waste of time, effort and especially money.”

Hillard said on Tuesday that he could not comment on Shulman’s criticisms since the Village and Williams are in the middle of “on-going litigation.” He did say that he was pleased with the Village appeals board’s decision.

— Robert Mihalek