Officer Loses Job By Not Applying For Exception To Domestic Violence Order Forbidding Carrying Firearms

John Cottrell was hired as a police officer at the Hillview, Kentucky Police Department on May 24, 1999. On February 26, 2001, a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) was entered against Cottrell with a term of three years. The DVO provided in pertinent part that “pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 922(g), it is a federal violation to purchase, receive or possess a firearm while subject to this order.”

The policies and procedures of the Hillview Police Department require that officers be armed at all times and have their badges and identification. The Mayor initially suspended Cottrell from active duty on March 3, 2001, because he was unable to carry a firearm. Cottrell was then terminated on July 1, 2001, because there were no positions that would allow him to work without carrying his weapon. On October 21, 2002, the Mayor later re-hired Cottrell for “administrative duties” only, which meant he did not have to be armed to perform his duties.

In January 2003, a new mayor took office and on January 9, 2003, wrote a letter indefinitely suspending Cottrell from duty because of his inability to possess a firearm. When the local Police Commission upheld the suspension, Cottrell challenged the suspension in court.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld the suspension. The Court observed that the constitutionality of the underlying federal statute had been upheld several times in federal court, at least as the law applied to individuals who have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Cottrell, however, had not been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, but rather was subject to a DVO.

The telling point in Cottrell’s case, though, was that while police officers subject to DVOs can apply for an exception allowing the on-duty carrying of a firearm, “Cottrell has not followed the appropriate steps to have the exemption apply to him. The proper step Cottrell should have taken was to move the Warren Family Court that there was a specific exemption to the federal statute which would allow a police officer subject to a DVO to carry a firearm. Cottrell has made no attempt to move the Warren Family Court to amend his DVO and he is, therefore, still subject to a valid court order and the prohibition contained therein. If Cottrell wants the exemption to apply to him, he must follow the appropriate steps to have his DVO amended based on this exemption.”

This article appears in the October 2005 issue