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UPDATE: This article was updated at 2:28 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019.

UPDATE: New Collegedale city and police spokeswoman Bridgett Raper said in a text message just before midnight Saturday that "as a matter of policy that protects both the City and our former employees, the City of Collegedale does not comment on the possible grounds for the termination of any employee."

"The City is an "at-will" employee under Tennessee law, meaning that either the City or the employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time without notice or cause."

On Sunday, she added that the city denies the allegations in question.

 

Original story: 

Attorneys for two of the three Collegedale, Tennessee, police officers who were unexpectedly fired Friday evening will be filing lawsuits on their behalf to join in a suit against the city and its officials for wrongful termination after speaking up against an "illegal quota system."

Janie Parks Varnell, who is representing former officers Kolby Duckett and David Schilling, said the officers were fired for helping the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in its probe of the city's alleged quota system, according to a Saturday news release.

The TBI has been investigating the allegation since July.

Parks Varnell argued the firings were "just another example of the City of Collegedale, Chief Brian Hickman and City Manager Ted Rogers terminating skilled officers simply because those officers brought attention to the illegal quota system implemented by the Department."

She added that "Tennessee law protects public employees who bring attention to the illegal activities of their employers. I will be filing suit against City Manager Ted Rogers, Chief Brian Hickman and the City of Collegedale for the illegal firing of these outstanding officers who were serving and protecting our community by speaking out against unlawful quotas."

Collegedale city and police spokeswoman Bridgett Raper did not return multiple requests for comment.

On July 11, Collegedale Commissioner Ethan White called for a TBI probe into an accusation by former city policeman Robert Bedell, who claimed that beginning in January, officers were being written up for not meeting monthly quotas.

The July 3 lawsuit claims Bedell approached his supervisors with concerns about the quotas on Jan. 6. Documents attached to the lawsuit show officers were required to complete at least 25 "enforcement actions" and 100 "patrol activities" per month. Enforcement actions mean written citations or arrests, and patrol activities include neighborhood, business and school patrols.

In Tennessee, while agencies can establish performance standards, they cannot require or suggest to law enforcement officers that they are expected to issue a predetermined number of traffic citations within a specified period, the law states.

By Jan. 10, Hickman told Bedell he could resign and retain his Peace Officer Standards Training certification that allows him to work in law enforcement anywhere in Tennessee or be fired and have it revoked, reads the suit.

After the lawsuit was filed, City Manager Ted Rogers sent a lengthy email to all city commissioners and the mayor.

"As I mentioned earlier, and being able to, I have returned abruptly from vacation to properly handle and address, various issues which have come to light requiring my attention, management and leadership" the July 18 email reads.

In the email, Rogers discusses the city's 39-cent tax increase and something he called the "Current Situation."

"I want to encourage all of you that the Ship of State is doing just fine; despite the allegations before us Many attacks came and completely false charges have been levied by citizens, and others," he writes. "I wonder at what point free speech becomes liable and downright slander? Indeed, I am personally looking into that on behalf of me and my staff. And where is the proof of such horrible and untrue allegations?"

"Our jobs are not easy," he continues. "I am however looking for the arsonist(s) who have matches and gas cans running around the City desiring to light fires.

"You all know, I am a former Fire Chief and am quite skilled at fighting fires, looking for and reading smoke, if there actually really is any."

On Friday, Duckett and Schilling, as well as a third officer who has not yet been identified, were fired and the police department's spokeswoman was replaced.

No reason was given.

Shortly thereafter, two city commissioners and the vice-mayor called for an "emergency meeting" of the board of commissioners to "discuss the current and future state of the Collegedale Police Department, City Administration, and the welfare of the city" on Monday at 6:30 p.m., according to a statement released by the officials.

The elected officials, Vice-Mayor Tim Johnson, Commissioner Debbie Baker and Commissioner Ethan White, asked Mayor Katie Lamb and city recorder Kristi Wheeler to issue the "immediate notification" of all commissioners and necessary staff at least 12 hours before said meeting.

If the meeting can't be held Monday at 6:30 p.m., the officials have asked for it to be held immediately following the board of zoning appeals meeting, or on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter@HughesRosana.

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