February 13, 2003
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Former officer appeals dismissal in county court

Former Yellow Springs police officer Matt Williams last month filed a complaint against the Village in a Greene County court, appealing the Village’s decision to fire him.

In the complaint, Williams claims that the Village violated his right to due process under the Ohio Constitution by not providing him with a post-termination hearing and a mechanism through which he could appeal and challenge his dismissal.

Filed in Greene County Common Pleas Court on Jan. 30, the complaint asks the court to reinstate Williams on the police force and award him attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

The complaint names the Village, Village Manager Rob Hillard and Police Chief Jim Miller as defendants.

An assignment commissioner with the Common Pleas Court said that the judge assigned to the appeal, Stephan A. Wolaver, would base his decision on a transcript of a pre-disciplinary hearing, which was held on Dec. 6, and briefs that both sides will file. The entire process could take at least three months.

One of Williams’s attorneys, Danyelle S.T. Coleman, said last week that Williams is confident he will win his appeal and get his job back “once the issues are fully fleshed out.”

Williams’s phone number is unlisted and he could not be reached for comment. A request was made for an interview through Coleman. Coleman said that Williams did not respond to the request.

Hillard and Miller said that the Village is confident about the process the Village undertook, which included an investigation and pre-disciplinary hearing. “I’m confident in the actions that we’ve taken up to this point and we’re prepared to defend our decisions,” Hillard said.

“If I were not confident in the process we used and the action that we took then we would not have done that,” Miller said.

Williams was fired last month for what Hillard called behavior that was inconsistent with what is expected of Yellow Springs police officers. Williams had been placed on administrative leave on Nov. 26, and a pre-disciplinary hearing was held in December.

The hearing officer, Michael Hammond, a former municipal manager, agreed with the conclusions of an internal police investigation, determining that Williams lied about and filed a false report about an incident that occurred during the early morning of Feb. 14, 2002. The investigation and hearing also determined that Williams misused his authority when he allegedly stopped several young women driving through Yellow Springs that morning.

Miller, who conducted the investigation, said last month that Williams stopped the driver, Sabrina Jones of Cedarville, without probable cause and that the officer was “not truthful about that traffic stop.”

Coleman said that Williams denies the Village’s allegations. Noting that there are “two sides to that story,” Coleman said that Williams “disputes the claims raised by the Village as well as the investigation commanded by the chief of police.” She declined to be more specific.

In the complaint, Williams claims that the Village is required to provide him with an appeals process to present evidence to challenge his dismissal. The suit argues, for instance, that Williams should have been able to appeal the Village’s decision before Village Council.

After the pre-disciplinary hearing was held in December, Hillard notified Williams in early January that he was fired.

Williams also argues that the Village Charter is unconstitutional because it required the Village to adopt a personnel manual, which, Coleman claimed, has one fewer appeals process than the Charter.

Adopted in early 2001, the Village Personnel Policy Manual says that employees who will lose their job shall receive a pre-disciplinary hearing to explain “the alleged misconduct.”

The manual superceded a provision in the Charter that outlines an employee’s right to appeal dismissal. Under the Charter’s provision, an employee could appeal to Council, which would then appoint a three-person board to consider the appeal.

In his complaint, Williams argues that the Charter’s appeal process is still in effect because the Personnel Policy Manual does not include “appellate rights with respect to discipline and or discharge.”

The Personnel Policy Manual does not contain a corollary appeals process so it “infringes on his rights to get his fair day in court,” Coleman said of Williams.

Janet Cooper, the Village’s labor attorney who is handling the case, would not comment, saying, “We don’t litigate cases in the press.”

In a letter to Williams’s attorney, Cooper said that the pre-disciplinary hearing represented an appeal of Miller’s recommendation to dismiss Williams.

Coleman and the suit also objected to aspects of the pre-disciplinary hearing, explaining that Williams was not given the opportunity to cross-examine some witnesses, who were not present for the hearing, and that the Village presented evidence that included unsworn witness statements and the results of lie detector tests. Coleman said that the tests are “viewed with suspicion by many courts of law.”

During his investigation, Miller had both Jones and Williams take a lie detector test, or a voice stress analysis. According to Detective Alonzo Wilson of the Xenia Police Division, who conducted the tests, the test showed Williams was deceptive.

During an interview Monday, Hillard said several times that the Village’s process was thorough and that the Village would respond to Williams’s claims through the court process.

—Robert Mihalek