Chief threatens to sue...again
Capac Police Chief Raymond Hawks says reprimands are 'retaliation, discrimination'
March 19, 2008CAPAC — Should the village council be prepared to face another lawsuit from Chief Raymond Hawks? According to statements and a letter given by Hawks' attorney, Ed Morris, at Monday's council meeting, he believes a recent pattern of disciplinary action taken against the chief is the council's attempt at ousting Hawks and he's prepared to sue on grounds of retaliation and discrimination.
The allegations aren't true, says village council president Mark Klug. Per village charter, Klug serves as chief executive officer with supervisory authority over the affairs of the village. Simply put, he is Hawks' supervisor.
"There is no plan to retaliate or discriminate against the chief," Klug says. "The actions were taken because there were violations of village policy. We just want the man to do his job."
At issue was a seven month-old oral reprimand and a second one which was recently added to Hawks' personnel file.
The first was issued in Aug. 2007 after Hawks wrote a letter on Capac Police Department letterhead asking Mussey Township officials to waive an illegal burn fee leveled against an individual who was working off community service hours at the Capac Police Department.
Village policy prohibits employees from representing the village on personal matters.
In the letter, Morris contends that the matter did involve police department business because the individual was performing community service at the department. He says the police committee's reprimand was "retaliatory and discriminatory."
Not so, counters police committee member Liz Hargrave.
"There is absolutely not a plot to retaliate or discriminate against the Chief," she says. "There is a recognition that when things are not done properly, something needs to be said. If it's a reprimand, it's a reprimand.
"Remember," Hargraves adds, "the police committee serves at the pleasure of (Hawks') boss."
Though Klug and police committee members earlier declined to comment on the second matter which was discussed with the chief on March 12, 2008, Morris brought up details during the public meeting and in his letter.
The scenario referenced in Morris's letter occurred after someone struck the mailbox at Hawks' Mussey Twp. home. Hawks says someone told him the culprit was a Capac High School student driving a vehicle with a loud muffler. While in uniform and on duty he went to the school to question the individual. According to Morris's letter, Hawks requested that the student come outside to the suspected vehicle and start it up.
"The student then explained that the black mark had nothing to do with hitting a mailbox, and convinced Chief Hawks of that fact. The student then returned to school," Morris states.
Morris's letter indicates that Hawks motive was to "head off a potentially serious or fatal accident in the future."
Klug said Hawks' actions were not appropriate because they did not concern village business.
Morris said that according to Hawks' contract, the council has the authority to fire him if he accumulates three disciplines. Hawks' last contract stipulates that he is an 'at will' employee. The council is not required to show just cause should they choose to terminate his employment.
Later in the meeting, by a 4-3 vote, the council removed the seven month-old oral reprimand from Hawks' file. Larry Adams, Deb Hlubic, Dan Donnellon and Bob Lombardo cast 'yes' votes while Marsha Libkie, Mark Klug and Liz Hargrave cast their votes of dissent.
The chief requested it be removed, saying the council promised to take it out of his personnel file after six months. Hargrave said a writen agreement stipulated that they would review it within six months.
Hargrave says she's disappointed that so much time is being consumed on police department matters.
"We have worked for a year and a half to have a council that works well together—one that does not vote as a block—and this issue is not dividing the council," she says. "But it is consuming a lot of time."
In Jan., 2005 Hawks sued the village, former village manager, three former council members and police officer Randy Cosens alleging First Amendment rights violations relating to a 30-day paid suspension in Dec. 2004. After an investigation, Hawks was reinstated in Jan. 2005 and a written reprimand was placed in his file.
The suit was ultimately settled by the village's insurance company for $120,000 in March 2005. Of that sum, Morris was paid $85,000. Hawks' wife, Vicki, received $30,000 with $5,000 going to the chief. The settlement included language that no party was deemed to have prevailed in the suit.
The reprimand was later removed by a majority vote of the village council.