March 15, 2010 4:06:00 PM
Four Columbus Police officers suspended for 15 days without pay over a May 2009 incident in the Vicksburg National Military Park have lost their appeal in Circuit Court.
Sixteenth Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard found the city was within its rights to suspend Wade Beard, Heath Beard, Robert Walker and Cpl. Spence Wallingford for inappropriate behavior while attending a field sobriety training course in Vicksburg in May 2009. The ruling, filed March 12, comes two weks after a February court hearing.
"This Court does not find that the Mayor, City Council or Civil Service Commission rendered their decisions arbitrarily or capriciously," Howard wrote in the ruling.
The four officers were suspended for 15 days -- equating to roughly $3,000 in pay -- by the Columbus City Council May 19. They subsequently appealed to the Civil Service Commission, which upheld the suspensions, June 17.
Rod Ray, the officers'' attorney, argued his clients were not suspended on good faith and the justification for their suspensions has been inconsistent.
The appeal filed in 16th Circuit Court on behalf of the officers claimed their suspensions were not based on credible evidence, were not made in good faith and that Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John could not or would not cite which section of the CPD''s Standard Operating Procedure manual on which he based his recommendation to the city board that the officers be suspended.
Reasons cited for the officers'' suspension were driving without a seat belt, violating standard operation of a city vehicle and conduct unbecoming of an officer.
The alleged inappropriate behavior took place at the Vicksburg National Military Park and was reported by a park ranger and two anonymous witnesses.
The park ranger and visitors reported the officers, along with a Lowndes County sheriff''s deputy and his fiancée, were riding around in a marked police cruiser with the doors open, flashing its lights and bumping the siren. Additionally, the deputy and his fiancée were riding in the trunk.
Wallingford has since resigned from the police force, after being investigated for misuse of his CPD-issued patrol car and computer.