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Columbus officer suspension cases to continue in July

 

Ryan Poe

 

Instead of taking the witness stand, Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John may just give the Civil Service Commission his recorded testimony about the suspensions of two officers. 

 

St. John''s deposition is tentatively scheduled for July 14 -- the earliest date all three lawyers in the case could meet with St. John, who is the final, key witness. 

 

After that, the commission can call a meeting to hear the testimony and issue a verdict on the appeals of now-retired Lt. John Pevey and officer Richard "Rick" Higgins. 

 

Although the deposition video and transcript would be public record, it is unclear whether the deposition session will be open to the public. 

 

Both appeals were continued June 17 after St. John called in sick last minute. He declined to say what he was sick with, but City Attorney Jeff Turnage said he had sounded "nauseated" on the phone that day. 

 

The commission decided to go ahead and hear the other witnesses and review the evidence, which took nearly six hours and was mostly focused on Pevey. 

 

Higgins had driven a car into a pool of water during a storm early New Year''s Day. Pevey was accused of not properly reporting and documenting the incident. 

 

Both officers were suspended 20 workdays in February. Pevey is asking the commission to reverse his suspension while Higgins is asking that his suspension, which is his first, be reduced. 

 

During the June 17 hearing, Pevey -- a Lowndes County sheriff candidate -- and his Tupelo-based attorney, Shane McLaughlin, accused Mayor Robert Smith of bias. 

 

Smith, McLaughlin said, had become angry at Pevey because the officer had mentioned Smith''s name in a routine daily email report earlier this year, when Smith''s ex-wife had called Pevey to ask a question about child custody. 

 

In his testimony, Smith admitted that he may have told Pevey "This ain''t over" after a "heated conversation" that also included St. John and others. 

 

Smith cast the tie-breaking vote in February to suspend Pevey, McLaughlin said. 

 

But Turnage argued that the council''s decision was based on the recommendation of St. John, who had also unsuccessfully lobbied for Pevey''s demotion. 

 

Pevey, Turnage continued, has recently had several run-ins with the policies of the city and police department, including another incident involving Higgins. 

 

In that case, Higgins did not properly search a suspect, Vasquez Fox, which allowed Fox to bring a handgun into the county jail. Pevey, according to Turnage, did not properly report that incident to his superiors -- a charge Pevey denied. 

 

Before that, Pevey had been suspended for not following departmental policies after his squad car collided with a civilian vehicle. Instead of having the vehicle towed, Pevey pulled the front fender off the tire and drove the car to the garage. 

 

Besides that, his attorney said, Pevey had not had any other disciplinary issues in his 33-year career.

 

 

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