Sheriff’s Candidate Kevin Johnson Claims Wrongful Firing From Police Department; Court Case Continues
By LYNDON GERMAN
Oct 31, 2017, 08:38
HOPEWELL – Prior to committing to his campaign for Hopewell Sheriff, Kevin Johnson was an employee of the Hopewell Police Department from 1999 until his discharge on Sept. 30, 2016. Johnson attempted to dispute his termination, proceeding through the City of Hopewell’s Human Resources and Procedure’s Manual, filing a grievance on Oct. 19, 2016 seeking to be reinstated within the department with full back pay, seniority and benefits.
Ultimately, an independent Administrative Hearing Officer for the Department of Employee Relations Counselors of the Commonwealth of Virginia, would side with the city in terminating Johnson. He then turned to the courts, and to this day the situation is unresolved.
The report completed by Hearing Officer William Doran III obtained through the Hopewell Circuit Court Clerk’s office, describes Johnson’s performance as “apparently impeccable” for nearly nine years until July 2008 when he received “his first charge which later went ‘unfounded.’ Not until March 1, 2012, did Grievant receive a ‘founded complaint’ as to his employment performance.” But a pattern of what the Hopewell Police Department deemed as misconduct would rise later leading to Johnson’s release.
Some examples of said misconduct include an instance that occurred on June 29, 2016 where Johnson (also referred to as the Grievant in the hearing officer’s report) was assigned to an assault case involving a teacher at the Hopewell LEAD Center and a 15-year-old juvenile with a history of criminal assault. When executing the arrest warrant the Grievant obtained a warrant for the wrong person. The hearing officer describes the instance as such:
“The party arrested bore the same first name as the party actually involved in the assault that Grievant was assigned to investigate, but otherwise there were significant age and size differences as well as differences in criminal backgrounds for each of the two women. Further, Grievant gave inconsistent statements as to the reasons for his mistaken arrest of the wrong person ... The evidence of record does not suggest mitigating circumstances sufficient to offset the gravity of the wrongful arrest, with its potential for exposing the City to civil liability and to bad publicity - for City and Grievant - which such events inevitably entail, nor as to the party wrongly arrested.”
Other evidence brought forth to determine Grievant’s misconduct include: multiple failings to use Body Warn Camera, inefficiency by displaying a continuous pattern of disciplinary actions; failing to perform duties expected of position and not improving after a performance improvement plan, failure to handle evidence properly and several other claims.
Johnson and counsel held the position that his discharge was motivated by a Facebook post made on July 22, 2016 where he appeared in uniform as a City Police Officer, critiquing a restaurant for its alleged policy on service to law enforcement officers. The Grievant counsel argued the Chief of Police set on a mission to terminate Johnson after the incident and that his actions at the worst could possibly merit a suspension from employment.
After reviewing the evidence brought forth by the city and hearing the arguments from both parties, the hearing officer ultimately sided with Hopewell Police Department’s termination of Johnson citing lack of evidence on the Grievant’s part to attribute his termination was linked with the July 2016 Facebook or that the Chief of Police and Department were out to tarnish his career.
On June 26, 2017, Johnson petitioned the courts to appeal the decision of the hearing officer. Johnson represented by Attorney Andrew Meyer, and the Hopewell Police Department represented by Faith Alejandro of Sands Anderson had a recent hearing on Oct. 13, 2017, litigating the matter.
Judge W. Allan Sharrett presided over the October hearing where the city’s counsel argued that the court is limited by Virginia code on the hearings outcome. Though Virginia Code 15.2-1507 allows either party to petition the circuit court section 11, B. also states, “The review of the circuit court shall be limited to the question of whether the decision of the panel or hearing officer was consistent with provisions of law and written policy.”
Essentially the court’s role is to determine whether or not the city followed its own grievance policy, not the final decision itself. However, the opposing counsel pointed out in order to be in compliance with Virginia Code 15.2-1507 the city’s grievance procedure needs to be filed with the City’s Circuit Court Clerk. During the hearing, the city’s counsel could only point to date-stamps and other circumstantial evidence of the filing, but the actual document was not in the clerk’s office leaving the matter open to petition.
After hearing both arguments, the Court and counsels agreed to continue the matter and prepare more evidence for an additional hearing.
The Hopewell News asked Johnson for a statement regarding the hearing on Oct. 13 to which he replied:
“After our first court date, we continue to litigate with the City, and we are confident that we will prevail,” wrote Johnson in an emailed response.
But according to recent draft order from the city filed on Oct. 23 the Circuit Court Clerk located the city’s grievance certification and form on Oct. 16. With this new found evidence the draft order asserts Johnson’s notion to vacate and/or remand the administrative hearing officer’s decision be denied and his petition for appeal to be dismissed.
The court still has to rule on that order presented by the Hopewell Police legal representatives, which will determine the status of Johnson’s claims. While his status for the run for Sheriff will be determined at the polls on Nov. 7.