Police Chief Resigns Amid Internal Tension Including Lawsuit, Unfair Labor Practice Charges

HILLSBORO, OR &#8211 Hillsboro Police Chief Carey Sullivan has resigned from his position amid ongoing labor tension within the department, including a pending lawsuit brought by an officer against the agency and two unfair labor practice complaints filed by the police union last month.
Sullivan, 54, who led the department for less than three years, wrote in his March 2 resignation letter that he was leaving the department to “pursue other interests.” His departure is effective Saturday.

Sullivan will earn about $11,266 per month in severance for six months, for a total earning of $67,596, according to the city. He will also receive health benefits during that time.

The city has chosen former Hillsboro Police Chief Ron Louie to lead the department in the interim. Louie, who earns $10,626 per month without benefits, started Monday. Sullivan is on vacation this week.

Hillsboro City Manager Michael Brown said Sullivan did not leave to preempt an internal investigation and made a “personal professional decision” to resign.

In a statement, Hillsboro Police Officers Association President Paul Hess said he did not know why Sullivan “suddenly resigned.” He acknowledged strain between the chief and the association, stemming from “policies and decisions made by Chief Sullivan that caused great concern for the HPOA executive board and many of the Association members.”

During interviews, Sullivan has declined to provide a specific reason for his resignation, saying his letter to the city speaks for itself. The chief said challenges existed between the department’s administration and the union, including grievances filed, unfair labor complaints and the lawsuit.

“Again, I’ll stick with what I said before: It didn’t affect my decision,” Sullivan said on Thursday. “Those are some of the things that were going on … It paints a picture of the environment.”

Hillsboro Police Officer David Morse and the union filed a civil suit against the department in January last year claiming supervisors unlawfully commanded him to turn over his cellphone records during an internal investigation.

Morse’s lawsuit seeks a permanent order prohibiting the department from using the records.

The department notified Morse on Jan. 11, 2012, that it was investigating his on-duty traffic crash that occurred the week prior when he rear-ended another vehicle in his patrol car at about 4:45 p.m. He told the department the crash occurred when he was reaching into his pocket for his cellphone to call the district attorney’s office, records say. In a memo to Morse, a lieutenant directed him to submit his cellphone records for the day of the crash between 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Attorneys for Morse and the union say the request violated Morse’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

Morse’s phone was his personal cellphone, but he received a $35 monthly stipend in accordance with a department policy that subsidized officers’ phones for work use.

Morse and the union are also requesting a declaratory judgment, stating that Morse’s rights were violated. The union additionally seeks a court order stating that the cellphone subsidy does not automatically make personal phone records subject to disclosure.

In court records filed last year, attorneys for the department say the phone records were not protected by the Fourth Amendment because they pertain to a city-subsidized phone used for business. Even if the court finds that Morse has a right to privacy, they argue, the city’s “compelling interest” in investigating the crash justified a warrantless search.

The January 2012 crash was Morse’s fourth since 2008, according to court records filed by the department, and the second crash involving his cellphone.

“This caused the City grave concern regarding Officer Morse’s driving habits and the risk he posed to the public,” the department’s attorney, Daniel Barnhart, wrote in court records. “The city did not seek records showing the content of any communications, but merely the records from his cell phone provider (Verizon) showing calls and texts made and received.”

Amid the ongoing litigation, in early December, the police department implemented a new electronic communications policy, according to an unfair labor practices complaint that the police association filed Feb. 4 with the state’s Employment Relations Board against the city. The Oregonian has requested the policy, but the department has not provided a copy.

The complaint, which seeks a civil penalty, alleges that the new policy “promulgated highly intrusive searches, contained violations of state constitutional law, contained violations of federal constitutional law, and contained violations of privacy law related to employees represented” by the association.

Under existing department policy, association members were not required to turn over their private property during the course of an internal investigation if the city did not have a subpoena, court order or search warrant, according to the complaint.

The city and association did not bargain about the policy, the complaint says, and the union requested to do so. The association claims the city did not respond to its request.

In creating the policy, Sullivan said the department was “pushing for transparency” and trying to be “open and honest with employees, the association and the public.”

Sullivan said the lawsuit indicated that more clarification was necessary surrounding policies related to cellphone use, and the policy was created to provide that clarification.

A second labor complaint, filed Feb. 19, states that three association members were subpoenaed to appear and testify during an arbitration hearing in November and were directed to not seek compensation. The hearing was regarding a contract grievance. The city, the complaint alleges, believed that the appearance was not “service-connected.”

The complaint further alleges that non-union employees, who also received subpoenas, were paid.

According to the state’s employment relations board, the city has not yet responded to either complaint.

Though Sullivan maintains his resignation was unrelated to the ongoing labor disputes, he acknowledged the union presented challenges. “It definitely was a hurricane,” he said.

From The Oregonian

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