Chattanooga City Council panel rules ex-police officer won't get job back

Chattanooga City Council panel rules ex-police officer won't get job back

April 9th, 2013 by Todd South in Local Regional News

Former Chattanoooga Police officer Mickel Hoback, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Court with one of his attorneys, Michael Richardson in this 2011 file photo.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

A former Chattanooga police officer who failed to convince a three-member City Council panel to give him his job back said Monday he will appeal - again.

Mickel Hoback, who was fired from his job in 2009, said he was disappointed in the outcome of his hearing and planned to appeal the 2-1 decision not to reinstate him to the police force.

His attorney, Michael Richardson, said after the hearing he was "terribly and bitterly disappointed" with the panel's decision.

"I thought the proof was overwhelming that he performed his job at a high level," Richardson said.

Council members Sally Robinson and Carol Berz voted against reinstating Hoback, while council member Andraé McGary voted to put the officer back on the force with restrictions.

It was the same vote Hoback got in his first hearing in 2009 after his firing.

Hoback joined the police department in 2000. He served a one-year combat deployment to Iraq before rejoining the force in 2006. In 2007, he was named Officer of the Year.

Former police Chief Freeman Cooper fired Hoback after an April 15, 2009, call from Veterans Administration officials who said a doctor had deemed Hoback a suicide risk and involuntarily committed him to the VA Clinic in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for evaluation.

But Hoback and his counselor Michael Bearden later told officials that the commitment was a mistake. The head psychiatrist released him the next morning with a written note stating he could return to normal duties.

Hoback had two other psychiatrists evaluate him. Those doctors said he could return to his job, but both doctors and the city psychiatrist said that he had embellished or fabricated parts of his post traumatic stress disorder to increase his disability benefit.

Cooper ordered Hoback be evaluated by a city-contracted psychiatrist, who found his PTSD symptoms presented too high a risk and supported Cooper's decision to fire him.

City Attorney Phil Noblett argued to the panel that it was unsafe for police leaders to put a man in body armor with a gun on the streets of Chattanooga when they were uncertain of his mental stability.

Monday's hearing resulted from a Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling that Hoback be given another review.

Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton had ruled when Hoback appealed the first reinstatement hearing that the city erred and should reinstate him with back pay.

A separate federal lawsuit in 2011 went to trial. A jury ruled in Hoback's favor, awarding him $680,000 in a combination of back pay, future pay and compensation for suffering.

That money has not been paid and is tied up as the case is under appeal.

Noblett said after the hearing that written arguments are due in the federal appeal May 10.

Richardson hung the bulk of his argument on Cooper's own testimony as to why he fired Hoback. Cooper said that the firing was not performance-based. Under Tennessee Police Officers Standards and Training rules, he could not employ an officer with PTSD or who posed a risk to the public.

But the POST standards and laws supporting them were nullified when the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a consent order with Tennessee citing the laws and rules as unconstitutional and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Mickel Hoback was fired because Chief Cooper misunderstood, misapplied or misapprehended state law back in 2009," Richardson argued.

But Noblett said after the hearing that the panel's decision and the city's review of Cooper's firing held up under that law.

Current police Chief Bobby Dodd, an Army veteran, said after the hearing that the department employs at least 90 veterans and has a liaison officer who works with police officers who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.