Ex-UC officers file suit vs. city

Ex-UC officers file suit vs. city
By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
Three former police officers have filed a lawsuit against the City of Union City.
David Jones, Randy O’Dell and Ashley Thompson Merrell filed their lawsuit in Obion County Circuit Court and are seeking reinstatement, as well as compensatory damages, back pay, front pay and punitive damages.
All three are former employees of the Union City Police Department.
They were terminated in January as the result of alleged policy violation following an internal investigation launched in connection with the arrest of former Union City police officer Mike Hogg, 42, on charges of filing a false report and insurance fraud.
Hogg was arrested Dec. 21, 2011, by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on charges stemming from an investigation of a stolen four-wheeler reported to the Obion County Sheriff’s Department in August 2010. He had been employed with the Union City Police Department since June 2007 and was terminated following a seven-day suspension that began the day of his arrest.
Hogg was indicted by the February term of the grand jury and later entered a guilty plea in Circuit Court to charges of false reports to an officer and two counts of insurance fraud. He received four years of judicial diversion and 160 hours of community service and was ordered to pay court costs and restitution, a total of $3,846.50, according to court records. After four years, if he completes all requirements, he can petition the court to have the action removed from his record.
Jones, O’Dell and Mrs. Merrell had all been released from duty with pay while the police department’s internal investigation of the incident was under way in late December and early January. They all worked the same shift.
They were notified Jan. 13 that they were placed on seven-day suspensions, to be terminated at the end of that period. At that time, Union City Police Chief Joe Garner emphasized the officers’ terminations were the result of policy violation and not any type of criminal offense.
According the lawsuit filed by Jones, O’Dell and Mrs. Merrell, they claim they “reported in good faith what they believed to be illegal conduct, including theft, filing a false police report and insurance fraud, of fellow patrolman Michael Hogg to state and local authorities.”
“Plaintiffs refused to remain silent about this illegal conduct,” the suit states in part.
The three claim in their lawsuit that they cooperated in the state and local investigation and “continually refused to remain silent” about Hogg’s alleged action, also claiming that Hogg’s crime would have gone undetected had they not reported it.
They claim the sole reason given for their termination was failure to follow departmental policies in reporting the illegal activity and claim this reason is “simply untrue.”
In their suit, they claim to have reported the illegal conduct to superiors months before reporting it to law enforcement outside the police department.
The three fired officers appealed their terminations to the city’s Personnel Advisory Board, which voted to reinstate them, according to the suit. They allege the city refused to comply with the Personnel Advisory Board vote and the board resigned in protest — leaving them no option but to pursue legal action.
They are seeking a jury trial and are asking to be awarded all compensatory damages, back pay, front pay, reinstatement, attorney’s fees, interest, punitive damages and equitable relief allowed.
The suit was filed April 19 on their behalf by attorneys Michael L. Russell of Brentwood and Donald D. Zuccarello and Anne Hunter Williams, both of Nashville.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 4.30.12

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