Crown Point starts process to fire cop suing the city
CROWN POINT — Steps were taken Thursday to begin the termination of a long-time police officer who sued the city earlier this month alleging the mayor and police chief were trying to force him to retire for political reasons.
The Board of Public Works and Safety approved 3-0 suspending Sgt. James Poling with pay pending termination, effective immediately. Board members Randall Palmateer and Mayor David Uran abstained from the vote.
Poling has been assigned to the department’s 911 center since October, when the Board accepted his retirement.
Poling has five days in which to request a hearing regarding charges stemming from a high-speed pursuit that occurred in May 2012, according to City Attorney David Nicholls, who said according to time stamps from that night that the pursuit, which began in Crown Point and ended in Gary, reached speeds in excess of 100 mph down Broadway in the mid-evening hours.
The hearing must be conducted within 30 days.
In the suit filed Feb. 4 Poling, who is represented by attorney Christopher Cooper, alleges Uran and Police Chief Pete Land tried to use the pursuit as a reason to force him to retire after becoming angered by his stand as president of the Crown Point Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 176 that Palmateer should not be seated on the Board.
Cooper alleges the mayor lied when he told Poling the city’s insurance carrier would no longer cover him following the pursuit in an effort to force him to retire because he was angry Poling spoke out against Palmateer. Cooper said he is in the process of interviewing representatives from the insurance company for the case.
According to the suit Poling, in his capacity as president of the lodge, wrote to Mayor David Uran on Feb. 23, 2012 to ask him to replace Palmateer on the Board in the wake of Palmeteer’s DUI arrest and a separate incident where Palmateer allegedly pointed a weapon at an on-duty city police officer. The letter expressed the FOP’s dissatisfaction and amazement that Palmateer, in the light of those incidences, sits on the board that manages and regulates the Crown Point Police Department, according to the complaint, which was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio in South Bend.
Thursday, Cooper said the 30 days in which the hearing must take place have long since expired. He said according to state statute the city waived its right to conduct a hearing after it failed to do so when it was first requested by Poling after the charges were initially filed Aug. 31. “The hearing should have occurred by Oct. 1,” Cooper said.
During the meeting, Nicholls said, the mayor, police chief and lawyers for the city and Poling hammered out the terms of Poling’s retirement following the conclusion of the investigation. Instead of terminating the officer the agreement was to allow him to continue to work until his 20-year anniversary date April 22 so he could receive his full police pension.
Uran said Poling was instrumental in the discussion concerning his retirement during that meeting and the city was only trying to help an officer who was not adhering to the rules but who provided almost 20 years of service to the community receive his full pension.
“The only thing I’m guilty of and the Board is guilty of is trying to see someone get his retirement. When you bite the hand that going to help, it’s wrong,” Uran said.
On Feb. 5 the city received a letter hand-delivered by Poling indicating as it does in the lawsuit that Poling allegedly withdrew his retirement Oct. 9 via email from his previous attorney to Nicholls, one day before the Board approved it, Nicholls said. He said the email he received that day did not contain language withdrawing the retirement.
Nicholls said until the lawsuit was filed, Poling’s actions appeared to correspond with his intent to retire. In December Poling applied for the city’s early separation incentive offered by the city in 2012 to retirees. Poling received a check for $13,200. The city has placed a stop payment on the check, Nicholls said.
Cooper said his client returned the check since he is disputing his retirement. Cooper said he could not answer why Poling applied for the early separation incentive.
The correspondence goes on to state that the action by the Board is an attempt to interfere with the pending federal lawsuit.
“This is blatant attack by Mr. Land and Mr. Uran to obstruct justice in the federal court proceedings,” Cooper said, adding that during that meeting Poling was told if he did not agree to retire they were going to fire him
Uran called the suit and Poling’s allegations “reverse politics.” Uran said the city has a lot of good police officers and through its police department policies and hiring practices have created a fair environment in the department.