September 18, 2003
orders Village to hear appeal of fired police officer
A Greene County judge
has ordered Village Council to arrange a hearing for former police officer
Matt Williams to appeal his dismissal from the Yellow Springs Police Department.
In his ruling, which
was submitted Sept. 5, Judge Stephen A. Wolaver of the Greene County Common
Pleas Court agreed with Williams, saying that the Village must provide employees
“a process for appeal of disciplinary action having adverse economic
effect” on the staff members. While the Village has a process to determine
disciplinary action — called a pre-disciplinary hearing — it
does not provide its staff a means to appeal certain decisions, through
personnel policy manual, Judge Wolaver found.
Calling the manual incomplete,
Judge Wolaver sent Williams’s appeal back to the Village, ordering
the Village to follow a procedure outlined in the Village Charter that provides
an appeals process for employees. Under that process, Council must appoint
a three-person board to consider the merits of the Village’s decision
to fire Williams, whose employment with the Village was officially terminated
on Jan. 2, 2003.
Village Manager Rob Hillard
declined to comment on the judge’s decision, though he did say that
the Village would follow the requirements of the Charter.
Jeffrey Shulman, one
of the attorneys representing Williams, also declined to comment on Judge
At its meeting Monday,
Village Council, which discussed the case in executive session, agreed to
appoint a panel of three residents to consider Williams’s appeal.
The residents are Len Kramer, a member of the Village Mediation Program
Steering Committee; Barbara Boettcher, an attorney who is serving 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 panel will set a date to consider Williams’s appeal.
After the meeting, Council
president Tony Arnett said that the three members of the board possess a
“good set of skills for the task.” He declined to comment on
Judge Wolaver’s decision.
Williams was hired as
a part-time officer in May 1998 and moved up to full-time a year later.
He was fired after an
internal investigation by former Police Chief Jim Miller and a pre-disciplinary
hearing found that Williams filed a false report about and misused his power
during a traffic stop in the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 2002. Miller,
who has since retired, said that Williams made the stop without probable
cause and was “not truthful” about the incident.
Williams denies the allegations.
He filed an appeal with the Common Pleas Court on Jan. 30, 2003, arguing
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. His complaint asked the
court to reinstate him on the police force and award him attorney’s
fees and punitive damages.
Shulman said that he
is “very confident” that the allegations against Williams “are
not true,” and that the actions his client is alleged to have committed
did not warrant the decision to fire Williams “nine or 10 months later.”
The Village had argued
that the pre-disciplinary hearing, which took place on Dec. 6, 2002, was
all the due process Williams was entitled to, and that the venue to appeal
the decision was the Common Pleas Court.
The judge determined
that the Village did not follow the Village Charter, which, Judge Wolaver
noted, “clearly identified and established the right of an employee
who had been discharged for cause to appeal that decision.”
The Village erred in
writing the personnel policy manual, which was adopted in January 2001,
because it did not follow this mandate, Judge Wolaver said.
He did not address, however,
the larger issue in the case: whether the Village correctly dismissed Williams,
or whether Williams was truthful about the incident on Feb. 14, 2002, and
that he should not have been fired.