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Civil Service Commission sides with city in suspended police officer case

 

Columbus Police Department patrol officer Toni Howard, left, and her attorney Francis Springer listen as Capt. Ric Higgins testifies during a Civil Service Commission hearing at City Hall Wednesday afternoon. Police Chief Fred Shelton looks on at far right.

Columbus Police Department patrol officer Toni Howard, left, and her attorney Francis Springer listen as Capt. Ric Higgins testifies during a Civil Service Commission hearing at City Hall Wednesday afternoon. Police Chief Fred Shelton looks on at far right. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Columbus Police Cpl. Joshua Vandiver points out the location of Toni Howard's patrol car on a map of Columbus police precincts, which was outside of her beat. Howard was suspended for that incident as well as for pointing her Taser at a shackled inmate two days later.

Columbus Police Cpl. Joshua Vandiver points out the location of Toni Howard's patrol car on a map of Columbus police precincts, which was outside of her beat. Howard was suspended for that incident as well as for pointing her Taser at a shackled inmate two days later.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Isabelle Altman

 

 

After a nearly three-hour hearing Wednesday, the Civil Service Commission of Columbus ruled not to change the punishment of a Columbus police officer who was suspended after pointing a Taser at a shackled inmate. 

 

Patrol officer Toni Howard appealed the Columbus City Council's November decision to suspend her for 14 days without pay for two separate incidents -- one in which she left her assigned beat during patrol and another, two days later, during which she took a handcuffed inmate to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle and, after the suspect spent several minutes threatening her and using profane language at her, pointed her Taser at him in an examination room. 

 

During the appeal, Howard said while she didn't necessarily disagree she should have been penalized for pulling the Taser, she thought 14 days was "excessive." 

 

"He was cursing and causing a scene, and I ... probably could have chosen better language myself," Howard said. "But I had been dealing with him over an hour, and I was a little frazzled." 

 

When she pulled out her Taser, she said, she was trying to gain control of the situation. 

 

She also said she had been off her beat two days before because another officer told her he had gotten permission from their sergeant for her to practice traffic stop training at another location. However, she admitted, none of her superior officers directly gave her that permission. 

 

Francis Springer, Howard's attorney, argued the officer's punishment was arbitrary, pointing out that her supervisor didn't tell Howard to go back to her beat even when he saw her at another location and that no where in CPD's disciplinary policies did it say what punishments officers receive for what infractions. He also pointed out no supervisors ever offered Howard some form of remedial training that would have gone over with her how to conduct herself differently in the future. 

 

But City Attorney Jeff Turnage said all city departments implement a progressive system of discipline, starting with a verbal warning, followed by a written warning and then, depending on the severity of the infraction, suspension. He said Howard had already been written up for two similar infractions, during one of which she lost her temper with a security guard at Baptist Memorial. He argued it showed a pattern of behavior and that her punishment was fair. 

 

Turnage also argued the city couldn't come up with a policy of punishment for each individual infraction. 

 

Following the commission's decision, Springer said he and Howard were disappointed, though they didn't think the decision was made in bad faith. Springer added they would consider appealing the decision. 

 

The commissioners themselves told Howard everything in their reports suggested she was an exemplary officer and that they hoped she took that as encouragement to keep better hold of her temper. 

 

"Everybody ... talked about what a great officer you were, what tremendous potential you had," Commissioner Tango Moore said. "I would take from this the fact that ... it appears the Columbus Police Department holds you in high esteem and they're expecting great things out of you."

 

 

 

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