Court Terms As ‘Excessive’ Officer’s Termination For Untruthfulness

Kim Atchison was a corporal in the Monroe, Louisiana Police Department. Chief Ron Schleuter terminated Atchison for 27 violations of sick-leave policy, not “calling out” on off-duty jobs and lying to the Chief in his office when she stated that she never called to log out after working off-duty jobs. Further investigation showed that Atchison had called out over 100 times during her employment.

During a civil service board hearing, the Chief testified that Atchison “was of no use to the Department” because her credibility was so adversely impacted that she could not testify at trial.

Since 2004, there had been ten cases in the Department of officers lying during internal affairs investigations. Some of those officers were not terminated and the policy for violations of the lying prohibition was described as “loose.” Due to Atchison’s number of violations, the Chief decided to draw the line and not tolerate her conduct.

In January 2008, the Chief imposed the new termination policy for lying. No written policy was issued because, in the Chief’s view, the truthfulness rule was clear in the policy and procedure manual.

A Louisiana appeals court overturned Atchison’s discharge. The Court found that the civil service board “was neither clearly wrong nor manifestly erroneous in finding that Atchison had violated some departmental policies. While she had logged out for off-duty work over 100 times during her employment, she did not do so on others.”

That notwithstanding, the Court found that “the trial court committed a fundamental error that prevented it from making an adjustment to Atchison’s penalty (termination) after it found this penalty to be excessive and disproportionate when compared with punishment imposed upon other Department officers in somewhat similar situations. A reviewing court may not adjust a penalty simply because it disagrees with the punishment imposed. Atchison’s termination is set aside because we agree with the trial court that termination was excessive discipline and is without question disproportionate to the sanctions received by similarly situated MPD officers.

“While the prohibition against lying during investigations could be discerned in the policies of the Department, the zero tolerance followed by termination was a change in practice of which Atchison may not have been aware. Moreover, Atchison had been formally commended a number of times during her employment and not been the subject of any previous disciplinary proceedings. No effort was made to warn her against violations or to rehabilitate her behavior prior to termination. Taken together, those factors make the termination clearly wrong and manifestly erroneous.

“We render the judgment awarding Atchison full pay and benefits from the date of her reinstatement plus legal interest until paid.”

Atchison v. Monroe Mun. Fire and Police Civil Service Bd., 2011 WL 1677744 (La. App. 2d Cir. 2011).