Officer’s misconduct case delayed

Hearing postponed while Franklin police choose new merit board member

A hearing to consider whether a Franklin police officer should lose his job has been postponed while the city’s police force selects a new member of the board that will ultimately decide his fate.

The Franklin Police Merit Commission was set to meet Feb. 15 to consider internal misconduct charges against 15-year veteran Bryan K. Burton, who has been suspended since October after his arrest on a charge of domestic battery. The police chief has asked for Burton to be terminated, and the merit board will make the final decision.

The merit board is made up of five residents who are appointed by the mayor, police department and city council. Longtime member Joan Pfifer’s term has expired, and she does not want to be re-appointed after serving on the board for 18 years, merit board attorney Bill Barrett said.

That would leave the board with four members to consider a recommendation from police chief Tim O’Sullivan to terminate Burton, who has a history of other suspensions. The chief had sought Burton’s termination for a previous offense as well.

The Franklin Police Merit Commission can decide to suspend, demote or dismiss an officer or choose to take no action.

The chief is asking for Burton’s termination on disciplinary charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and conduct injurious to the public peace or welfare.

The hearing is being postponed because it would be bad practice to consider the disciplinary charges and any potential punishment or termination of Burton with just four members, Barrett said.

The timing of the disciplinary hearing is the issue. The city’s board of public works and safety sets the date for the police department vote for a new member of the merit board, and that vote must take place at least three weeks after the board of works meeting, set for Thursday.

That would put the police department vote to Feb. 16 or 17 at the earliest. The Burton disciplinary hearing was supposed to begin Feb. 15, so it has been delayed. A new date has not been set yet.

Franklin police officers now get to recruit and nominate a new merit board member to replace Pfifer. Nominees must live within city limits and cannot be a Democrat due to rules regarding how many members of each political party can serve on the board.

Any police officer, including Burton and the chief of police, can nominate a new merit board member in writing to O’Sullivan, who will post the names in the squad room. Officers can then independently seek any information they want in making their decision.

The department’s 46 members will vote in private.

City rules say that active members get to cast a ballot. Whether Burton, who is suspended, is considered an active member and can vote is being researched, O’Sullivan said.

The other members of the merit board are John Shafer, Kyle Kasting, Jeremy Fisk and Annette Sivels. Shafer, the director of the counseling center at Franklin College and a trained psychologist, was appointed by the city council, and Sivels is the police department’s other appointment. Fisk, a deputy prosecutor in Bartholomew County, and Kasting, a local business owner, were chosen by former mayor Joe McGuinness.

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Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mholtkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2774.