News and Tribune

November 13, 2013

Judge, not commission, to rule on Jeffersonville officer’s fate

Decision taken out of police merit commission’s hands

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — What disciplinary action the Jeffersonville Police Department will take against one of its officers recently arrested on drug charges will be decided by a retired Clark County judge and not the city’s five-person police merit commission.

JPD patrol officer Anthony Mills, 27, Sellersburg, was charged last month with class C felony attempted possession of a controlled substance after he attempted to purchase illegal steroids in a reverse sting led by the Indiana State Police.

The criminal charge is being handled in Clark County Circuit Court No. 2, and is isolated from the disciplinary charge issued by police Chief Chris Grimm of exhibiting behavior unbecoming of an officer — which was the subject of the merit commission’s monthly meeting on Wednesday.

During the meeting it was announced that former Clark County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Donahue will decide if Mills is in violation or not of officer misconduct.

It was decided that Donahue will be tasked with the duty after Mills’ attorney, Larry Wilder, and city Attorney Les Merkley agreed prior to Wednesday’s meeting that the senior judge will make the determination. Had Wilder and Merkley not agreed to have an outside source determine the case, it would have been ruled on by the merit commission, whose primary functions include discipline of police officers.

Neither Wilder or Merkley were in attendance at the commission’s meeting. Attempts to reach Merkley after the meeting were unsuccessful.

Wilder did provide a statement, which included, “Both the city and officer Mills are convinced that Judge Donahue will be a fair and impartial hearing officer. On behalf of officer Mills, it is our desire to be treated fairly and comparatively to other officers who have been subject to discipline for like kind and similar allegations.”

Merit commission Attorney Bob Bottorff said having the judge make the ruling “is one of the procedural options that the parties to such an action have. In my mind, the procedure worked exactly like it should have.”

During the meeting, the commission did return a unanimous vote to accept Wilder’s request to continue Mills’ hearing, which was slated for Nov. 25, to a later date. The date of the new hearing has not been set and is contingent on Donahue’s availability and the judge setting a hearing date, said Bottorff and merit commission President Dennis Henry.

The merit commission cast a second unanimous vote to remove Mills from paid administrative leave on Nov. 26. The merit commissioners justified the removal of Mills from the city’s payroll because his defense requested the hearing be continued.

Bottorff explained that Donahue’s decision could have a number of results, including Mills’ reinstatement, termination, suspension with pay or suspension without pay.

Bottorff said Donahue’s ruling on the matter does not require approval of the merit commission.

“It’s pretty well out of the commission’s hands at this point,” Bottorff said, adding that if the ruling is against the officer, Mills will have the option to appeal the judge’s decision.

Jeffersonville police FOP president Joe Hubbard attended the meeting and spoke openly of his support of Mills to the merit commission. Hubbard provided comment after the meeting as a representative of the FOP, and not the Jeffersonville Police Department.

Hubbard said he would have preferred the merit commission allow Mills to remain on paid leave until the hearing takes place, but the merit commission pointed out that if a number of continuances are requested and approved, the hearing could be delayed nearly indefinitely, and it does not want to continue paying an a city employee who is not performing his or her job.

“Right now, they are just accusing him of something,” Hubbard said.

Separate from the JPD’s disciplinary charge of misconduct, Mills’ next court hearing in Clark County Circuit No. 2 is slated for Dec. 9