A Franklin police officer has been suspended without pay after making changes to his police car without approval. Officer Bryan Burton, who has been with the Franklin Police Department for 13 years, was suspended for 15 days without pay after a hearing before the police merit commission.
Burton’s suspension comes years after another hearing with the police merit board over a recommendation he be fired after facing multiple disciplinary charges. Burton was demoted from detective, suspended for 45 days and put on leave while criminal charges were pending, but he returned to work after those charges were dropped in 2011.
Last month, the police merit board met to discuss new disciplinary charges against Burton for violating rules for care of equipment and the professional code of conduct. The new charges centered on changes Burton made to his police department vehicle, without getting approval from the police department.
The board had a hearing, where the chief’s attorney and Burton’s attorney presented their cases. This week, the board made a decision on what discipline Burton should face.
The chief’s attorney had argued for a 30-day suspension, but the board approved 15 days, board attorney Bill Barrett said.
The board agreed Burton had violated departmental policies by not making a formal request to make significant modifications to his vehicle, by doing the work himself and not telling police officials and by doing work more significant than other officers had done in the past, and that he should be disciplined, according to board documents.
The four-member board unanimously approved the discipline, Barrett said. Burton’s attorney Jennifer Auger was not available Wednesday. Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan declined to comment and referred questions to Barrett.
In December 2012, Burton was assigned a 2013 Dodge Charger, which came with police equipment, including a laptop console and a radar speed unit. Burton did not like where the radar unit was mounted in the vehicle along the post running between the windshield and driver’s side door, because he said it obstructed his view, according to the documents.
For more than a year, Burton did not ask to move the device, and did not make any comments about it during monthly vehicle inspections. Officers can and do ask to make modifications to their vehicles, but the police department’s policy is to request and get approval first.
Burton talked with a Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputy and saw that his radar unit was installed in a different place in his car. In April 2014, Burton told his supervisor Lt. Kerry Atwood that his radar unit was in his line of sight and told him about where the devices were placed in sheriff’s deputies’ cars. Atwood said he couldn’t remember details of the conversation, but Burton told the board he asked if he could move the radar unit in his vehicle and Atwood said he didn’t have a problem with that, the documents said.
But the board said Burton did not explain what the process of moving the unit would require, and he did not say he would be doing the work himself.
Burton made a large hole in the dashboard to make room for the radar unit, drilled holes into the support beam behind the dashboard, relocated and reconnected power wires, which required him to remove the entire dashboard, and removed the bracket with a hacksaw, leaving holes where it had been mounted.
Other officers had made minor modifications to their vehicles without getting permission from the department, but the department’s procedure has typically been that the more the modifications include, the more formal a request should be, including getting permission, the documents said.
Burton told the board he knew he could have made a request but he expected that the administration would put his request in a “black hole” due to past disciplinary issues, and that another officer had made three requests to get her radar device moved.
His past discipline from the police department was a factor in the decision and punishment he was given.
Burton was disciplined in 2010 and served a 45-day suspension after he admitted to several departmental rules violations in an internal investigation, including buying alcohol for minors and drinking on the job. He also was moved from his position as an undercover drug detective to the position of patrolman. In 2011, he was placed on desk duty during an Indiana State Police investigation into the actions that led to the disciplinary case, and then suspended for more than five months after criminal charges were filed against him. The charges were later dropped when a witness in the case no longer wanted to participate, and Burton returned to work as a patrol officer.
The board did consider Burton’s past disciplinary cases with the most recent one, Franklin merit board president John Shafer said.
The board also considered that Burton had previously made a written request to have his taillights repaired and did not mention the radar unit at that time. Burton said he didn’t bring that up at the time because he had to wait seven hours for the taillights to be repaired, the documents said.
Burton also waited more than a year after getting the car before doing the work, and never made a request during that time, the documents said. And the board has no evidence that a modification as invasive as this one had ever been done by an officer, instead of a supervisor or the company the department uses, the documents said.
Because of those issues, the board found Burton had violated departmental rules and conduct unbecoming an officer.
The 15-day suspension is served by work days, not calendar days, Barrett said.
The board wants to hold officers to higher standards, and will continue to ask officers to do the right thing, Shafer said.