Ex-cop files claim against city

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tommy Johnson, whose position as a Demopolis police officer was terminated by the city on Nov. 2, has filed a notice of claim with the City of Demopolis alleging that his due process rights were violated.

According to the claim, filed on April 7, Johnson’s employment was terminated for a breach of contract as specified in the City of Demopolis Personnel Policy Manual.

“Mr. Johnson has set forth in a claim letter he filed on April 7, 2010, that he had been a police officer from 1989 to 2009, and we were filing our verified claim pursuant to the Code of Alabama,” said Johnson’s attorney, Julian L. McPhillips Jr. of the law firm of McPhillips Shinbaum LLP of Montgomery. “We were given notice of a breach of contract by the City of Demopolis pursuant to the City of Demopolis Personnel Policy Manual, Section VI, regarding employee relations. It sets forth certain grounds for the termination of employees, none of which was applicable to Mr. Johnson.”

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The manual lists 16 grounds for action, such as conviction of a felony or other crime, acts of incompetencey or insubordination, habitual tardiness or absenteeism and gambling on city property.

Attached to the claim was the termination letter that Johnson had received from police chief Tommie Reese on Nov. 2 along with a petition requesting the rehiring of Johnson that contained 98 signatures.

The claim also states that Johnson attempted to have a hearing with the City of Demopolis, having been granted a request to meet in executive session with the Demopolis City Council on Nov. 19, but that executive session meeting was disallowed at the council meeting.

“He received a letter dated Nov. 4 from Mayor (Mike) Grayson purporting to allow him to appear in front of an executive session with the city council on Nov. 19,” McPhillips said. “He showed up at the city meeting on Nov. 19 and was not allowed to have the hearing that he was promised by the mayor that he could have concerning his termination.

“We say it was a violation of right to due process in the U.S. Constitution. He is a public employee — once you get past the probationary period, usually of six months, but in this case, he certainly passed that, a 20-year employee. He has a right to a hearing; you cannot be fired without a due process of law.”

The Nov. 4 letter from Grayson to Johnson also attached a copy of the city’s grievance policy, stating, “We will accept your November 2nd letter…as step “A” of the procedure. We will follow procedure in the subscribed following steps.”

The proper procedure in filing a grievance is to file the grievance with one’s immediate supervisor. If that is not resolved within seven days, then a grievance should be filed with the head of the department. If the written appeal to the department head is not filed within seven days of the original grievance, then all further appeals are terminated.

If the grievance is filed in a timely manner, then it will be reviewed and acted upon by the department head, the mayor and the appropriate council committee within 14 days of receiving the grievance. If that appeal is not resolved to the satisfaction of the employee, he may appeal in writing to the mayor and city council, which is the final determining appeal in the process.

Officials with the City of Demopolis were contacted and said they were unable to comment because the process is still ongoing.