East Ridge officials stood by their firing of a union officer who had a relationship with an 18-year-old high school student, saying Monday during an administrative hearing that the student's age is irrelevant because the officer violated community standards.
Though Adam Rose, 29, was cleared of any department and criminal law violations during a recent internal investigation, Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer testified that now-suspended police chief J.R. Reed didn't review every piece of evidence before reaching his decision.
After receiving the police department's findings around Nov. 16, about two weeks into replacing now-retired City Manager Scott Miller, Custer said he reversed Reed's decision and fired Rose for failing to uphold accepted community standards.
"There's 21,000 citizens out here hoping we do the right thing to the best of our ability," Custer told a five-person panel that East Ridge City Council members picked last week. That panel has 10 days to complete its findings into the incident and return them to Custer, who has final say over whatever the panel recommends.
After asking to appeal his Nov. 21 termination, Rose said he had a relationship this summer with the student, after she turned 18, while he and his wife were separated. Though he met the woman earlier in the year, when she was a minor, Rose said they had minimal contact and was truthful with investigators.
Attorneys Jim Exum and Terri Daugherty argued Monday Rose made enemies within the city government for going around his superiors to raise concerns about outdated SWAT equipment this summer. Exum also questioned why Custer wrote that Rose "solicited" a minor for sex and "may have committed a crime," in official documents when an internal investigation found she was 18 and a prosecutor said there was no criminal case.
After replying that Rose, an officer since 2016, "inadvertently solicited a sexual relationship," Custer later said, "I do not believe Mr. Rose committed a crime that I am aware of."
Most of Monday's hearing centered around the internal affairs investigation that began into Rose in October.
East Ridge City Attorney Mark Litchford questioned why Rose deleted his Facebook account during the investigation and said other students knew about he and the 18-year-old's relationship. During his testimony, Rose admitted to commenting with an emoji and said a police union representative advised him to delete his Facebook account, since anything could be taken out of context or used against him.
"So just an emoji," said one of the panel members, "no contact."
According to testimony, city managers have the authority to review internal affairs findings and discipline officers, even if they don't routinely fire them for city code violations. Near the end of Monday's hearing, one panel member asked if it was a standard practice.
"It is [standard]," Litchford replied, "particularly in Mr. Custer's administration."