Court reverses decision on police chief termination

Published: Apr. 4, 2013 at 3:17 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 4, 2013 at 10:26 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a decision on former Leesville Police Chief Bobby Hickman's termination, rendering a judgment reinstating his employment retroactive to the date of his original termination.

Hickman was terminated by the City of Leesville in January 2011 amid an internal investigation into alleged wrongdoing.

Hickman was sentenced in October 2012 in federal court on weapons charges and ordered to serve 46 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. The charges came as the result of a separate investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Leesville Police Department; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Louisiana State Police and the Vernon Parish Sheriff's Office.

The Leesville Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board affirmed the city's termination during a termination appeal hearing in September 2011. That decision was later upheld in state district court, but Hickman appealed the 30th Judicial District Court decision.

Hickman claimed the city violated state civil service law and the Police Officer's Bill of Rights in his firing. He also claimed that his constitutional rights were violated in the process.

The city, however, argued that Hickman failed to participate in the internal investigation and that his termination was in order under state law.

The city hired a private investigator and Hickman failed to appear at an interview with him.

Hickman argued that the interview was scheduled after the 60-day time period allotted for an investigation under state law. The civil service panel later denied an extension to the investigation.

3rd Circuit judges, in their ruling, found that the city's reliance on the state law regarding participation in investigations was "misplaced."

"We find that the City erred in relying on La.R.S. 33:2426 as a basis for the termination of Mr. Hickman. It appears that the City probably did so realizing that the time period for the initial investigation had expired and the Board refused to extend it. Therefore, we find that the actions taken against Mr. Hickman were an absolute nullity pursuant to La.R.S. 40:2531(C)," the ruling states.

La.R.S. 40:2531(C) states that, "There shall be no discipline, demotion, dismissal, or adverse action of any sort taken against a police employee or law enforcement officer unless the investigation is conducted in accordance with the minimum standards provided for in this Section. Any discipline, demotion, dismissal, or adverse action of any sort whatsoever taken against a police employee or law enforcement officer without complete compliance with the foregoing minimum standards is an absolute nullity."

The appeals court ruled that Hickman be paid full pay and benefits from the date of his reinstatement. Court costs are to be paid by the city.

Judge Billy Ezell presided over the 3rd Circuit hearing. Judges John D. Saunders and Shannon J. Gremillion also made up the panel.

The decision was unanimous.

You can view the 3rd Circuit ruling, issued Wednesday, here.

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