What does a merit board do?

Commission to decide what actions to take with Franklin officer, if any

An appointed board will consider whether a Franklin officer violated police department rules and what, if any, punishment he should face.

The Franklin Police Merit Commission can decide to suspend, demote or dismiss an officer or choose to take no action, based on information provided by the police chief.

Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan has recommended the board fire Officer Bryan Burton. Burton and his wife were both arrested on domestic battery charges over the weekend after a dispute at their Franklin home.

In the last two years, the Franklin police merit board has considered at least two disciplinary cases against officers, said Bill Barrett, the merit board’s attorney.

Typically, cases come to the board when the police chief is seeking an unpaid suspension longer than the five days he is allowed to issue, or is seeking a demotion or dismissal of an officer, or if the officer requests a hearing to review discipline issued by the chief, according to the board’s rules and procedures.

The chief decides what to include in the charges he sends to the board and also makes a recommendation on punishment for the officer, Barrett said.

The commission then decides if the officer violated departmental rules and what, if any, punishment is most appropriate, he said.

Police departments around the county and the sheriff’s office each have a merit board, which consider cases regarding their officers. For example, the Greenwood police merit board decided to fire Officer Paula Redd in 2014 after she had acquired 44 formal reprimands, including not completing police reports. The sheriff’s office merit board suspended detective Tevis McLaughlin in 2012 for 24 days after an internal investigation showed he had falsified mileage reports.

A merit board can discipline an officer if he or she is convicted of a crime or if the board finds him or her guilty of a disciplinary charge, including neglect of duty, violation of merit commission rules, neglect or disobedience of orders, continuing incapacity, absence without leave, immoral conduct, conduct injurious to the public health or welfare, conduct unbecoming or giving information to give someone an advantage in the promotion process for officers, according to the Franklin merit board rules.

O’Sullivan’s letter to the board listed charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and conduct injurious to the public.

Burton was previously suspended for 45 days in 2010 after an internal investigation turned up multiple department violations, including drinking on the job, giving alcohol to people younger than 21, improperly reporting time worked and not reporting a vehicle accident. Burton was also charged at the time with battery and official misconduct after a state police investigation. A woman had claimed he touched her genital piercing while equipping her with a recording device for an undercover drug buy. The charges were dropped after the woman no longer wanted to participate in the case.

A special prosecutor is being requested to consider criminal charges in Burton’s weekend arrest since Burton’s construction company is doing work at the home of Prosecutor Brad Cooper.

The merit board case would be separate from the criminal case. The five-member board includes two members appointed by the mayor, one by the city council and two by police officers.

Members of the merit board would consider the complaint and charges filed by the police chief and any internal investigation done.

During a hearing, the board can consider evidence and hear testimony from witnesses, according to the board’s rules. The board bases its decision on the evidence presented, the rules said.

If the officer does not agree with the board’s decision, he or she can appeal, and the board would then affirm or reverse its decision based on the hearing records and any new information presented, the rules said.

At a glance

Here is a look at the members on the Franklin police merit board:

Annette Sivels, Democrat, officers’ appointment

Joan Pfifer, Republican, officers’ appointment

Jeremy Fisk, Democrat, mayor appointment

Kyle Kasting, Republican, mayor appointment

John Shafer, Republican, city council appointment

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.