ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Former Chattanooga police officer Christopher Gaynor outside the courtroom Wednesday morning on the first day of his trial. Mr. Gaynor has been charged with criminally negligent homicide in the May 29, 2003 incident in which he shot and killed John Henderson during a traffic stop.

By the numbers

17 — Appeals heard by council members since 2000
11 — Appeals from disciplined police officers
10 — Administration decisions upheld by council members
7 — Administration decisions reversed by council members
4 — Appeals from employees disciplined by other city departments

When fired Chattanooga Police Officer Christopher Gaynor goes before the City Council in January to appeal his termination, he likely will face an uphill battle.

Council personnel panels don't often reverse an administration decision to fire or suspend an employee, despite action this month reinstating a dismissed K-9 officer, city records show.

A Times Free Press review of panel action from 2000 to 2003 shows council members side with the administration nearly 60 percent of the time. They have reversed decisions just seven times.

"We give the administration the benefit of the doubt," Councilman Jack Benson said.  Under city law, an employee who is suspended or fired can appeal the decision to the City Council, which assigns at least three members to hear the case. Mr. Gaynor, fired Sept. 22 after he was indicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide stemming from the shooting death of John Eric Henderson, is set to go before the council Jan. 26.

Lee Davis, Mr. Gaynor's lawyer, said he realizes going before the council is different than arguing a case in court.  "Our mind-set, it is different than the courtroom," he said. "We feel we have the burden."

Mr. Davis has had success before the council. Several of his clients have had the council reverse decisions. He said he presents facts to the council that are not always brought up in an administration decision.

"By and large, they listen," he said. "But I think as an attorney you have to come right out and say what is on your mind — put it out in front of them."

Mr. Davis represented Officer Iran Meadows, the K-9 officer, on Oct. 6. The police department fired Officer Meadows on Aug. 14 after investigators concluded he submitted false K-9 certifications, was untruthful during an internal affairs investigation, neglected duty and engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer.

But the council reversed that action. Instead, the council gave Officer Meadows, a 12-year department veteran, a 28-day suspension.

Mr. Benson served as chairman of the panel that made the decision.

"It is very serious business to take away someone's livelihood," Mr. Benson said. "This man had 12 years of unblemished record. Not a spot."

Mr. Benson said the proof against Mr. Meadows was inconclusive.

Mr. Davis said the council put far more weight than police administration did on Officer Meadows' dozen years on the force.

In addition to reversing and upholding decisions, the council's panels also modify them. On one occasion in April 2001, the council opted to terminate an officer appealing a 28-day suspension.

Councilman Ron Littlefield said he also gives the administration the benefit of the doubt.  "I tend to give a great deal of credibility to the process the individual has already been through," he said. "You don't tend to lose your job over some casual infraction."

But Mr. Littlefield said the panel process could be flawed. When he first served on the council in the early 1990s, he said he pushed to change the system and have a separate, impartial panel review personnel actions.  "I just feel that an individual would get a fairer trial, if that is what you wish to call it," Mr. Littlefield said. "It is very difficult for elected people to completely divorce themselves from the politics of their position."

Prominent community members have sat in the audience and glared at council members to try and influence decisions, Mr. Littlefield said.

While he has no plans to pursue any changes now, Mr. Littlefield said he favors a panel made up of retired human resource professionals.

"I don't feel like I am an expert on human resource management laws," he said. "There are people out there who would serve as volunteers."

Mr. Gaynor will not go before the council for his hearing until after his Jan. 6 criminal trial, his lawyer said.

"We need to have a determination of the criminal case before asking the City Council to make a decision," Mr. Davis said.

E-mail Duane W. Gang at dgang@timesfreepress.com

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT