A Collegedale, Tennessee, police officer was demoted last week for allegedly making "negative comments to an officer" last month.
Former patrol Sgt. Robert Hirko was suspended with pay on Aug. 23, and in a letter dated Aug. 30 he was notified he would be demoted to a patrol officer because the alleged comments he made were "unacceptable for the workplace, especially in [his] role as a supervisor."
But before he can return to duty, he's required to complete a fit for duty assessment by a counselor. It's not clear when that assessment will take place, and despite the allegations against Hirko having been sustained through an internal affairs investigation, he remains on suspended leave with pay, Kristen Boyd, Collegedale's human resources manager, confirmed in an email.
"Upon return, you will be reassigned to the position of Police Patrol Officer with a pay rate of $21.20 per hour," the letter reads. His previous pay rate was $25.73.
It wasn't initially clear what the nature of the alleged comments was, because "the complaint was orally made to higher authority, so there is no written complaint, and no written statements were filed or prepared by the reporting party," Boyd said. And while there had been a "thorough investigation," according to the letter, the internal affairs report wasn't included in Hirko's personnel file or disciplinary files.
The internal affairs report wasn't provided until later.
According to the report, a female officer said Hirko "harassed and/or intimidated" her during a conversation on Aug. 21 in the department's squad room during which he made disparaging comments about "[a female corporal] and women in general."
In an interview with Sgt. Jamie Heath, the reporting officer said she was doing her end-of-shift paperwork when Hirko sat down "right next to her and into her personal space."
Hirko then began questioning her about the way in which she was entering the paperwork, to which she replied that that was the way her corporal instructed her to do it.
"What else has the Queen B said?" he asked, according to a summary of the interview.
The officer told Hirko she didn't participate in gossip, to which he responded, "yeah right, all f — — girls do."
At some point, Hirko then asked the officer if she was still getting married and if she "was getting jaded," according to the summary. He then "identified himself as jaded" and said, "you guys [women] are a bunch of b — — . Not you included. You're a coworker."
Hirko admitted to having made each of those statements during an interview with Heath, according to the internal affairs report. Security cameras also picked up some of the conversation between Hirko and the female officer.
However, "there were some missing seconds between videos, some as much as 15 seconds missing between recorded files [and] some portions of the conversation were missing or unintelligible." The report didn't state why some parts of the video were missing.
Hirko said he didn't mean any ill will by making the comments, and "became upset and didn't understand why an investigation had been opened," the report states.
Heath noted Hirko had been verbally counseled in the past after having "verbally berated" the same officer who filed the Aug. 21 report for wearing the wrong colored [pin] while in uniform. She said he made her cry.
The officer said that complaint was reported directly to human resources, though no record of the complaint or counseling is listed in Hirko's disciplinary files. In fact, of the 42 pages of entries provided to the Times Free Press, only one is about counseling. The rest are all compliments.
Additionally, the reporting officer's corporal told Heath that Hirko had said negative things to her and other female officers, and that no other female patrol officers feel comfortable working with him.
As Heath investigated the complaint, he noticed Hirko had been "using tobacco inside City Hall at the time of the incident," something that is against city policy.
Hirko's demotion comes in the midst of a lawsuit against the city and its police department by former officer Robert Bedell, who claims to have been forced to resign just days after confronting supervisors over an alleged quota system.
The lawsuit states that each officer had to complete at least 25 enforcement actions and 100 patrol activities, something that Bedell's attorney Janie Parks Varnell argues is against state law.
In its response to the lawsuit, the city has denied all allegations involving a quota system or that Bedell was forced to resign. He did so voluntarily, the city claims.