March 21, 2019 11:00:32 AM
The Columbus Civil Service Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to uphold the termination of a former Columbus Police Department investigator who drove to Moorhead in a city vehicle while on duty to apply for a job.
The city council voted to fire Reginald Adams for misconduct during an executive session of its March 5 meeting.
During his hearing before the commission, Adams said termination was too harsh compared to the 10 days' suspension without pay that CPD Chief Fred Shelton initially planned to recommend to the council. He said had he known the council would fire him, he would have come to the meeting with legal representation.
"When you give someone the intent to suspend, that's what you think you're going to get," said Adams, who did not have legal representation during the commission hearing, either.
He also referred to an article in The Dispatch that ran before he was terminated in which multiple councilmen said they may consider firing Adams for leaving the city while on duty without permission.
"To terminate me and have councilmen put my name all in the newspaper, that wasn't fair," he said.
"I have more cases than any investigator back there," he added. "I work nights, days, whenever the chief needed me, special detail. He'll tell you that I've done it, never said anything, never missed a day, never was late."
But City Attorney Jeff Turnage argued Adams knew the suggested 10-day suspension was a recommendation and that the council could choose whether to level another punishment. He added that was especially true if councilmen had already told The Dispatch they were planning to consider firing Adams.
"If you show up at the meeting and you don't put up a defense and you put yourself at the mercy of the council, it's kind of hard to come back after the fact and say, 'I would have had legal representation if I'd have known,'" Turnage said, "because it was very obvious that they could do whatever, especially with the newspaper articles that were in the paper."
Moorhead is a town in Sunflower County about 132 miles from Columbus.
Details of the incident
During the hearing, Shelton testified he learned Adams left the city when Edrick Hall, a former assistant police chief at Columbus and currently chief of the Indianola Police Department, called Shelton on Jan. 31 and told him he saw Adams in Moorhead applying for the city's chief of police position that day.
Shelton said he was immediately suspicious and began texting Hall pictures of Adams and the vehicle he thought Adams had taken out of the city, to make sure Hall was identifying the right police officer. Shelton also called a payroll clerk, who confirmed Adams was on duty, and Adams' supervisor, Capt. Stacey Deans, who said he hadn't given Adams permission to leave Columbus.
Shelton also told the commission Adams took an unmarked vehicle police used for undercover surveillance rather than his personal vehicle.
Following Shelton's testimony, Turnage played a video of a conversation Shelton and Deans had with Adams in Shelton's office after Adams returned to police headquarters, during which Adams admitted to leaving the city without authorization. In the video, Adams tells Shelton he will take full responsibility and that he was out of Columbus "less than three hours."
"All you had to do was just say you needed some time off," Shelton tells Adams in the video.
Adams also tells Shelton in the video he did not take a city vehicle to Moorhead. Shelton said Adams' dishonesty about the vehicle was one of the reasons he recommended suspension.
"Being a police officer, you have to have integrity," Shelton said. "... When we prosecute citizens in court we have to be telling the truth. If we're not telling the truth, we might put an innocent person in jail or cause some undue harm or get sued because of dishonesty."
He said that though he recommended 10 days without pay -- five for leaving the city without authorization and five for lying about the vehicle -- he agreed with the city council's decision to terminate Adams.
Adams was first hired at CPD as a patrol officer in November 2016, moving to the criminal investigations division in January 2018. His rate of pay was $15.75 per hour at the time of his termination.
In his first four months in CID, Adams racked up 338 hours of overtime, including being authorized to drive the mayor and city planner to a Federal Home Loan Bank conference in New Orleans. His paid overtime in that period, which The Dispatch reported, outpaced all the other investigators and was 144 hours more than the next highest.
Shelton also sent Adams to retrieve part-time officer Louis Alexander in March 2018, after Alexander had been stopped in Starkville for driving under the influence. Alexander, who was off-duty at the time of the stop, was not ticketed, and Adams brought him back to Columbus in a city vehicle.
Adams declined to comment to The Dispatch following the hearing.
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