By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY —
Members of the New Albany Police Department Merit Commission heard the evidence, did their interviews, and overwhelmingly voted 4-1 last week to overturn the termination of Officer Philip Houchin.
Merit Commission President Eddie Hodges said there was no other way to vote.
“Three doctors said Officer Houchin was fit for duty,” he said. “There was other evidence as well, but it’s hard for someone to say he is not fit for duty when three medical professionals say he is.”
Houchin returned to work Monday after being off the force for a year. After some mandatory training that he missed, Houchin will return to third shift, according to NAPD Chief Sherri Knight. She said officers periodically take time off for various reasons and return without any problems.
Houchin, who has been an officer with the department since 2005, was fired nearly a year ago after Knight determined he was unfit for duty and issued three disciplinary charges against him. All three charges were released to the media Tuesday, but the commission’s 4-1 vote for reinstatement last Thursday was only on the first charge which was violation of the department’s rules and regulations, specifically, “incapacity.” The other two charges were rejected by the commission last week.
Knight read a prepared statement to the commission that expressed her dissatisfaction following the vote. The results of the evaluation, as seen in the charging documents from the city, show Houchin was diagnosed with a disorder that results in violent and/or angry outbursts.
“I hope that the commission fully considered the potential risks and consequences associated with his reinstatement,” Knight said in the release. “I do not agree with the determination you have reached, but I will respect the commission’s vote and reinstate Officer Houchin. I request that the commission require or permit the department to take steps to insure that Officer Houchin remains on his medications and continues in his treatment so as to safely do his job.”
Hodges said following the merit commission’s investigation, and after speaking with three doctors who interviewed Houchin, he feels strongly that the commission made the right decision.
“If you went out and talked with any officer on his shift, guys who put their life in his hands, all say they are ready to work with him,” Hodges said. “That helped me make up my mind as well.”
Brandon Smith, attorney for the commission, said the public should have no worries about Officer Houchin returning to active duty. He said the charges that were released to the public were all one-sided.
“All of the doctors that evaluated Officer Houchin felt he was fit for duty,” Smith said. “I am proud of the thoughtful way the commission examined the evidence. I was very impressed.”
Hodges said a lot of information came out of the reinstatement hearing including a third doctor who said Houchin was mentally fit. He said the commission members, with the evidence they had, could only vote one way, to reinstate.
“We are not there to satisfy the city. Our job is to follow the laws and look at the evidence,” he said.
John Hall, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99 in New Albany and NAPD sergeant, supports the decision to reinstate.
“Officer Houchin will do fine. He was an officer that had no complaints against him prior to this. A good officer, always performed well,” Hall said.
Even though she did not agree with the vote to reinstate, Knight said Wednesday as a department it’s time to move forward.
Hodges said Houchin just “wants to get back to work.”
Houchin declined to discuss the issue.