Suicide Attempt Can Be Just Cause For Discharge

Cletus Morton was a probation and parole officer for the Missouri Department of Corrections. On the evening of October 8, 2010, Morton was watching his seven-year-old daughter when he consumed between one-half and three-quarters of a 750 ML bottle of vodka. Morton’s behavior around his daughter caused her to call her mother, Morton’s ex-wife, and ask to be picked up because she did not want to stay with Morton. Mother picked up the daughter, and as she was backing her car out of the driveway, Morton emerged from the home with a .40 caliber Glock handgun. In full view of his daughter, Morton fired two shots at his head in an apparent suicide attempt. One shot missed his head completely and hit the roof of his home. The second shot grazed Morton’s face and also hit the roof.

After firing the shots, and still in possession of his loaded firearm, Morton went back into the house and locked himself in a closet. While Morton was locked in the closet, Greene County police surrounded his home, formed a defensive perimeter, and blocked a portion of the street. Eventually Morton surrendered.

The Department fired Morton, citing the facts surrounding his suicide attempt. He challenged the termination in the Missouri Court of Appeals.

The Court found there was just cause for the termination. The Court reasoned that “the public has the right to expect that the agency entrusted with monitoring potentially dangerous offenders will employ individuals who handle themselves with the highest degree of professionalism. And the Department has the right to expect that same degree of professionalism from Probation and Parole officers. When an employee’s conduct falls below this standard, it threatens to undermine the credibility of other Probation and Parole officers, as well as the Department as a whole, with the public, with other law enforcement personnel, among offenders, and within the courts.

“Conduct such as Morton’s – drunkenly brandishing a firearm and, with wanton recklessness, firing it multiple times in the air in a residential neighborhood, endangering the lives of the very public he is charged with protecting – harms the Department’s reputation and falls well below the standard that the Department has the right to expect from its employees. Moreover, the Department has indicated that it does not trust Morton to do his job, and a number of fellow employees have come forward with concerns for the safety of other Probation and Parole officers should Morton return. These concerns would hamper Morton’s ability to continue performing his job.”

McSwain v. Morton, 2014 WL 7342047 (Mo. App. 2014).