Judge Parker Self this week upheld the Bossier City Fire & Police Civil Service Board’s ruling of February 16, 2010, regarding the firing of Bossier City Police Officer Philip Vernon.
Just in case anyone doesn’t know the details of the case, here are the basic facts as laid out in the Judge’s opinion.
• “Mr. Vernon had transported Assistant District Attorney Sherburne Sentell, who had been arrested on October 3, 2009 at the Horseshoe Casino on Domestic Battery charges. Mr. Vernon filed a supplemental report regarding the incident and an additional charge of Public Intimidation was filed against the arrestee. An internal affairs complaint was filed against Mr. Vernon based upon the conflict between the officers report and the video evidence as it relates to the transport of the arrestee in the police vehicle. The internal affairs complaint was sustained and Mr. Vernon was found to be in violation of the Department’s Code of Conduct regarding false statements and malicious prosecution. Thereafter, Mr. Vernon was terminated. Mr. Vernon appealed his termination to the Board. The Board issued a Written Finding of Fact and Decision by a four to one vote on February 16, 2010.”
• “The evidence and testimony presented to the Civil Service Board established that Philip Vernon filed a report that contained false information; however, the majority of the Board felt Mr. Vernon perceived the statements made by Mr. Sherburne Sentell as threats to his employment. The Board felt there was no malicious prosecution intended. By majority vote the board finds the Appointing Authority acted in good faith and just cause but the punishment too severe and modifies the action to a ninety day suspension without pay.”
Both the city and Vernon filed suit in District Court to overturn the ruling of the Civil Service Board, Vernon because his lawyer objected to the fact that the Board, in its original meeting, had included wording that the city did not act in good faith. This was later amended to state that the city did act in good faith. The court ruled that the written finding issued February 16th (which stated that the city acted in good faith)
• “is appropriate and is deemed to be the decision of the board from which these parties seek an appeal”.
The City of Bossier appealed saying that the Board only had the authority to either affirm the city’s decision or reinstate Vernon, that it did not have the authority to change the punishment.
Vernon’s lawyer had brought up the fact that the tapes of the Civil Service hearing were incomplete and of poor quality.
The court noted on this issue that
• “The statute reads that the Board shall not be required to have the testimony taken and transcribed, but either the employee or the appointing authority may, at their own expense, make the necessary arrangements therefore”.
Since neither the city nor Vernon’s lawyer had arranged for transcripts, then none were made. The ruling of the board stands on its own.
The court reviewed Vernon’s incident report and the tapes from the in-car video during transport. The Judge noted that Vernon’s report contained the following in chronological order:
Line 6: transported Sentell to the Bossier City Jail
Line 7: begins ‘while in route’
Line 20: he (Sentell) then advised me (Vernon) that he was going to see to it that officers were sued and that the officers were going to lose their jobs over this incident.
Line 23: Upon arrival at the Bossier City Jail
The Court concluded
• “While reading this narrative in context and applying a reasonable understanding to these words as would be expected by a reasonable person, the reader can draw the conclusion that the ‘intimidation’ the officers would lose their job was made during the transport to the jail while the arrestee was in the police vehicle”.
The court reviewed the tapes and agreed with internal affairs investigators that Sentell was agitated and intoxicated.
• “While the Court notes that during the video Mr. Sentell requested several persons of influence be contacted; threatened to sue; informed the officers of his job duties and utilized words that would make a Sunday School teacher blush, Mr. Sentell did not threaten the officers with the loss of their jobs during his transport to jail. This directly contradicts the supplemental report filed by Mr. Vernon.”
• “Of importance is the question that Mr. Vernon, during the internal affairs investigation, was asked in hindsight after listening to the tape do you still feel that Mr. Sentell was trying to threaten you with your job. Mr. Vernon’s answer was ‘hindsight, and looking at the tape, um I’d have to say no, sir’.”
• “This Court, having reviewed the law and evidence does hereby affirm the findings of fact and decision by the Board issued on February 16, 2010. The appeals filed by the City of Bossier City and Philip Vernon are without merit and each appellant should bear the costs associated with its appeal.”
Philip Vernon is still an officer with BCPD, but the 90 day suspension for filing a false report stands.