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City settles with former police officer

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GINA R. HEINE
January 16, 2008
— The Evansville City Council unanimously approved a settlement Tuesday night with a former police officer who filed a grievance with the city seeking to be reinstated as a full-time officer.

The council accepted an offer from Jason Grooms and his attorney to pay Grooms $5,507 to “settle any and all claims.” The settlement gives Grooms what he would have been paid through Feb. 1, plus payment for his health insurance through the end of February, said his attorney Andrew Schauer.


Milton police cited Grooms with disorderly conduct after a bar fight in Milton last month. Grooms started as a part-time officer in Evansville in February 2006 and switched to full-time in March 2007.


Grooms filed a grievance against the city, saying he was off probation and that he resigned Dec. 17 under threat of termination brought without just cause.


The city denied the grievance, saying the grievance wasn’t filed properly and that Grooms’ resignation ended his ability to rely upon a collective bargaining agreement, according to a letter from Lt. Art Phillips.


New officers are put under a one-year probationary period, which can include hours worked as a part-time officer, city attorney Mark Kopp said.


The disagreement between the city and Grooms lies in 96 training hours that Grooms was paid for and he said should have been counted toward his probationary year, putting him off probation before Dec. 17, Schauer said.


According to the grievance:


On Dec. 17, Grooms met with Police Chief Scott McElroy. McElroy said “discipline was being imposed for off-duty conduct by (Grooms).”


Because Grooms was a probationary employee, McElroy said, “he was not afforded the right to contest termination. Based on this information and this information only, (Grooms) submitted a letter of resignation.”


In his grievance, Grooms said he was no longer on probation, “and as such was ‘constructively discharged’ from his position as police officer without just cause.”


McElroy was unavailable for comment this morning.


But in his letter, Phillips said Grooms was not told “discipline was being imposed for (his) off-duty conduct.” Phillips said Grooms resigned after consulting with his union representative and lawyer.


The council discussed the issue in closed session Tuesday night and voted in open session.


Council President Mason Braunschweig said the city believed it would have prevailed on the merits, but the decision was a matter of public safety.


“Essentially we would be without a full-time officer for a long period of time,” Braunschweig said. “Frankly the little bit of money that was in contention was not worth not having a full-time officer.”


Had the city fought the grievance, the process could have taken up to a year and racked up “immense costs,” he said.


Kopp and Schauer declined to comment on the negotiations.



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