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Courts Rule Former Mitchell Police Chief Must Be Reinstated
Updated May 5, 2013 1:04 AM | Filed under: WBIW News
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(MITCHELL) -The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed with two other courts that former Mitchell Police Officer and police chief Steve Blair must be reinstated to the force with back pay.

There was no formal ruling. But the court declined the city's request to hear the case.

The Supreme Court announced its decision Thursday. It upholds an Indiana Court of Appeals decision reached in April. And the appeals court affirmed a decision made Oct. 10 in Lawrence Circuit Court.

Blair's position was that the Mitchell Board of Public works and Safety had no jurisdiction to fire him, because there was a police merit board established by ordinance.

The courts agreed with Blair and ruled the board of works "lacked the authority to discipline officer Blair" because a merit board had been formed.

Blair's attorney, Andrew Duncan of Indianapolis, says Blair wants to be reinstated. Duncan says Blair has been "wrongly terminated" for more than 520 days.

The City of Mitchell had a different view on who could discipline officer Blair.

The city says the merit board had not set up rules to operate itself and regulations to oversee police officers. Because of a lack of those guidelines, the city says that the merit board could not rule in a discipline hearing and that the board of works, which previously oversaw the police department, still had authority.

But the three courts disagreed with the city.

Mitchell Mayor Dan Terrell, who brought the initial allegations of wrongdoing against Blair, said the city will bring him back to work after he completes the city-required 24 hours of training and passes physical training requirements. After Blair is back on the force, he will have to complete another 24 hours of training, set forth by the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, by the end of the year.

Blair's position with the city has remained open since he was terminated, and the city has saved the salary from that position, in case the court ruled in favor of Blair.

Terrell is not happy the Supreme Court would not hear the case and says the city plans to retain the original charges against Blair and present those to the merit board for review. There is a police merit board meeting scheduled for Wednesday. It is unclear if those charges will be on the agenda for that meeting.

Terrell alleges that on Oct. 28, 2008, Blair, while acting as chief of police, secretly recorded a conference in Terrell's office between Terrell, Blair and Reeta Hackler, who was serving as the chief dispatcher at the time. The conference was conducted because Terrell was concerned about people, who were not employed by the city, having unauthorized access to nonpublic areas of the police station.

The recording was then provided to a former city employee who was in the midst of a civil lawsuit against the city of Mitchell. The recording was used as evidence by the former employee in that lawsuit.

The complaint against Blair states: "The conduct of Steven Blair as acting chief of police was a blatant breach of discipline, breach of trust and an unauthorized disclosure of confidential, private and official information conveyed to him as the acting chief of police and is violation of the city of Mitchell's rules regarding confidentiality of police business... dereliction of duty... unbecoming conduct... and conduct adverse to the police department of the city of Mitchell."
 
This is not the first time a police officer has filed a law suit against the city of Mitchell. Former Mitchell police officer Lonnie Graves, who was fired by former Mayor Jerry Hancock, filed a lawsuit about 10 years ago. The city had to pay Graves about $160,000 in back pay to settle the suit because Mayor Hancock overstepped his bounds.



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