After a lengthy legal battle of motions and filings, which began in 2012, Judge J. Dwayne Steidley ruled on former Miami Police Chief Gary Anderson's appeal.
MIAMI – Miami's former Police Chief Gary Anderson's case regarding his discharge from the position by then City Manager Huey P. Long, is back in motion. After a lengthy legal battle of motions and filings, which began in 2012, Judge J. Dwayne Steidley ruled on Anderson’s appeal.
Steidley’s April 17 ruling order in the District Court of Ottawa County on Anderson's appeal on the City of Miami’s Review Board decision found that the board's interpretation of Oklahoma State Statute was not supported. The case was reassigned to Steidley, a District Judge of Rogers County in 2012.
Over 25 witnesses testified in the initial hearing held for eleven days between June 1 and June 11, 2012 before a Review Board, represented by attorney Carol Lahman, consisting of then Miami City Councilmen Scott Trussler, Rudy Schultz and Neal Johnson, and Miami Police Officers Teresa Lashmet and Andrew Hanson.
“The Court understands and gives deference to the Board, in that is was composed of volunteer citizens who were not legal scribes, but they were represented by counsel, and the hearing herein took days and considered very serious charges against the Plaintiff, which very well may be supported by the evidence; however, this Court finds that the allegations found to have been the basis of the Order should have been set forth in writing and should have set forth a concise and explicit statement of the underlying facts that supported the findings,” Steidley wrote in his decision.
Steidley ordered the findings of fact and conclusions of law be filed within 60 days, and upon receipt of the filings, the Court will set the matter for further status conference.
Miami City Manager Dean Kruithof said the Review Board reconvened as ordered.
“The Review Board met and issued detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law after reviewing the record in the case on June 13th. The Board’s findings and conclusions did not change the Board’s original decision to uphold the discharge of Gary Anderson, the former police chief. The Review Board’s findings and conclusions have been filed with the district court," Kruithof said.
Anderson’s attorney James E. Frasier said Steidley “sat on” the appeal decision for some time before issuing an order on the appeal.
“It’s back in the lap of Judge Steidley, “ Frasier said. “So, they have gone back and tried to correct their mistakes, and it’s been years. I mean, it’s kind of ridiculous. They handed it down and they didn’t even have a full board. They had fired one of the members of the board.”
Lashmet was fired in 2014 from the Miami Police Department. She was charged and indicted by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office on two complaints of perjury and engaging in a pattern of criminal offenses involving the May 14, 2013, arrest of Jerry Dean Payne Jr. of Miami. Lashmet was fined $300 and ordered her to pay $300 to a victim’s compensation account, plus court costs.
Frasier said the Board of Review’s latest filing upholding and supporting their previous decision will now be reviewed by Judge Steidley.
“Except now there’s new grounds," Frasier said. “The new grounds are that they go back with a decision from a four-man board when there was a four-man, one-woman board…We’re going to argue that’s a denial of due process, just like the movie ‘Twelve Angry Men.’ It’s kind of like they compounded a felony."
Anderson is asking to be reinstated to his position as Chief of Police of Miami, back pay, and other recourse, according to Frasier.
“You can only push so far so fast,” Frasier said of the lengthy appeal process of the Review Board decision. “The next step is if District Judge Steidley ever makes a decision, then if it’s adverse to Gary, we’ll then take it on up to the appellate court, and probably make some allegation about a denial of due process by virtue of the extended and unnecessary delay.”
Frasier said he has also requested voir dire, or preliminary examination, of the board members.
“The chairman of the board in the last two and a half years has done a large amount of business with the City of Miami,” Frasier said. “They wouldn’t let me ask any questions about it. I put on the record in the appeal my exhibit showing that it seemed like it was $60,000 to $70,000 worth of business he’d done with the City. That’s kind of interesting. How are you going to get a fair and impartial trial when one of the members is dependent on the City? I would say citizens of Miami need to wake up and pull your head out of your proverbial pocket.”
Frasier is referring to Review Board Chair Scott Trussler, once a Miami City Councilman, who owns Trussler Service Company.
“Here it is five years into the process litigating things that were 10 years old at the time they litigated the first time. It’s absurd,” Frasier said.
Review Board’s findings
In 2012, then City Attorney David Anderson and special counsel for the City of Miami, attorney Tony Puckett, defended Long's decision.
The Review Board’s Chair Trussler read a statement at the conclusion of the June 11, 2012 Review Board hearing that read in part, “Item one, the evidence we were presented establishes that Chief Anderson was provided and given notice of grounds to be considered by the city manager and an opportunity to be heard on those grounds prior to any action being taken.
“Item two, Chief Anderson was a member of the Miami Police Department from May 1972 to Feb. 15, 2011. He served as chief of the department since 1995.”
“Item three, the board finds that good cause was shown for dismissal.”
“Item four, because of the amount of testimony and the arguments of counsel over the methodology used in developing the raw data to form the basis of the morale study/investigation, the board states for the record that there was sufficient sworn testimony to establish cause for the dismissal without the consideration of city's exhibit four. This evidence was admitted to provide a complete record on appeal and was not used as a basis for cause.”
“Item five, the judgment of the board should not be construed as a determination by the board, that each and every allegation was established that was cited in a predetermination notice. City exhibit six provided to Chief Anderson prior to the action taken by City Manager Huey Long rather is, therefore, sufficient evidence to support the termination.”
The Review Board then took a vote on the matter before it with all five members voting unanimously, upholding Anderson's dismissal.
Anderson's attorney James E. Frasier argued against the dismissal saying the City of Miami and Gary Anderson were part of the Police Pension and Retirement System and the City could terminate participants only for cause under this system. The appeal goes on to say that the City of Miami, “conducted a biased and one-sided 'investigation' into allegations against Plaintiff (Anderson) and then terminated Plaintiff (Anderson) without just cause.”
The petition states that the City of Miami, upon Gary Anderson's appeal, purported to create and convene the Board of Review without authority and, “created and staffed in a partisan and partial manner.”
The petition alleges that between June 1 through June 11, 2012, the Board of Review purported to conduct a secret evidentiary hearing and made findings of fact and conclusions on June 11, 2012 holding that the termination of Gary Anderson was for cause.
The petition goes on alleging that Gary Anderson was denied due process in the means of the investigation, the formation of the board, the termination, the hearing and the disposition of the Review Board.
The filing also claims that the decision of the Board is not supported by law or by evidence. The petition alleges the Review Board conducted proceedings in private and that the determination of the Review Board is insufficient to support adequate review.
Frasier asked that the June 11, 2012 decision of the Board of Review, “be vacated, reversed and held naught and stricken.”
Anderson was a member of the Miami Police Department from May 1972 until February 2011 and served as Miami's Chief of Police since 1995 until 2011. Former Miami City Manager Huey Long discharged Anderson from his office and duties on February 15, 2011 after suspending him in December of 2010 when he received two official complaints from police officers of a hostile work environment. Long said at the time the decision was “for the good of the service.”
Long said then that Anderson was fired upon review of the investigative report and information provided by Anderson at the pre-determination hearing.
Miami Police Officer Todd Hicks served as Interim Miami Police Chief until the City of Miami hired George Haralson, a former Tulsa County Sheriffs Chief Deputy to fill the position in 2011. Haralson left in 2015 to take a position as a Chief Fraud Investigator for the State of Oklahoma in Tulsa. Thomas “Hightower” Anderson was then appointed to the position and currently serves as Miami’s Chief of Police.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.