(MITCHELL) - The charges against Mitchell Police Officer Steve Blair have been dropped.
The Mitchell merit board voted unanimously to dismiss all charges that former Chief Jerry Presnell filed against the officer.
The merit board reviewed the charges during an executive meeting on December 21.
Presnell charged that Blair had shown a disregard and lack of respect for the police department's rules and regulations, city officials, supervisors and the public.
He alleged Blair didn't wear his seatbelt while on duty, violated workplace conduct rules by recording a conversation with Merit board member Terry Bock, ordered a dispatcher to leave information off the department's radio log, included questionable overtime on his time card and recorded a conversation with Mayor Dan Terrell which was later used in a lawsuit against the city.
Merit Board President Phil Tincher said he was concerned because Presnell waited a year and 11 months before filing the charges against Blair.
"These violations were done almost 2 years ago," Tincher said. "Why wait two years to file them? Why file them with us, when it was his duty as chief to discipline the officer not the Merit Board."
Tincher feels Presnell had a personal vendetta against Blair.
"This has been an embarrassment this city to no end," he said. "It has cost the city thousands of dollars and has cost this officer and his family. It has caused other officers to work by themselves and pull double shifts. This city has very lucky no one has been hurt or killed by this action. The situation could have been prevented."
Ticher did say Blair used bad judgment in the choices he made.
"A letter of reprimand needs put in his file, so in the future he will understand this can't go on," Tincher said.
Tincher then made a motion for the charges against Blair to be dismissed, but a letter of reprimand be placed in his personnel file.
Board member Doug Kesterson said he did have concerns why Blair had spent so much time with Merit Board member Terry Bock. He was also concerned that Blair had taken extended break time and charged it as over time.
"I have to have a very, very solid reason to take someone's livelyhood from them," Kesterson said.
He asked Mitchell Police Chief Mike Hardman about the department's policy about extended breaks. Hardman said there was no policy on breaks at the department.
"I am aware that Officer Blair worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. that day and then was out with me later that night working a case," Hardman said. "It is not something (extended breaks) you want to happen all the time. Officers have to take lunch and breaks when you can between calls. Some days officer don't get breaks."
Kesterson also asked Hardman about Blair's performance as an officer before charges were filed.
Hardman said Blair had no write-up in his file and had no problems with Blair's job performance.
"I don't know if I would support throwing all the charges out. I do have concerns about what kind of officer he (Blair) was before these charges. Maybe there was something going on with the administrative branch of the police department. But given the fact that you (Hardman) have vouched for him and you are the man basically responsible. I don't have a problem dismissing everything."
Board Member Marcy Pedersen also had concerns with the time frame when the charges were filed and if Presnell followed department rules and regulations when filing them.
Brock had no comment on the charges.
When will Blair be back on patrol?
Hardman said Blair has completed all the fitness and training requirements. Now Hardman will meet with Mayor Gary Pruett and discuss when Blair will begin patrols.
History of the charges:
Presnell alleges on September 2009 Blair was required to answer questions narrowly related to an investigation and Blair refused. Blair was charged and suspended for five days without pay.
On January 14, 2010 Blair received an accident call, but instead of responding he pushed the call off on Officer Geyer. Geyer was home and off duty.
On January 16, 2010 Blair ordered Dispatcher Terry not to enter a complain against Blair on the police log. The caller complained about the way Blair had parked his police car while working on a call on Ind. 60. The complainant said they almost hit Blair's police car.
On February 25, 2011 Blair was picked up for duty by Presnell and Blair did not wear his seat belt. Again on March 19, 2010 an in-car camera again recorded Blair not wearing his seat belt.
Under unsatisfactory performance of duties, Presnell said on March 25, 2010 Blair while on duty, met with Merit Board member Terry Bock in the parking lot of the former Pamida building and had a conversation about city elected officials, department heads, the police department, and the chief of police. Which Presnell considered derogatory, degrading, defamatory, obscene and a violation of department rules and regulation.
On March 20, 2010 Blair went home at 2:52 p.m. and stayed home until 4:38 p.m. until he received a call for assistance. That same night, at the end of his shift, he stayed over to assist officer Mike Hardman with a theft call and turned in 90 minutes of overtime.
Blair asked if he could pay back the overtime rather than face the allegation.
On October 28, 2008 Blair, while police chief, recorded a conversation with Mayor Dan Terrell, and Chief Dispatcher Reeta Hackler without their knowledge. That recording was later used by former officer Randy Phelix in a law suit against the city.
Blair was terminated by the city's board of works in April 2010, but judges concluded the board of works did not have the authority to hear the case because the merit board was in existence at the time. The matter went to court, and Blair was reinstated to the force, pending the completion of fitness and training requirements.
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