Franklin Police Officer Bryan K. Burton’s history with criminal investigations goes two ways.

He’s been the investigator, tracking down suspects and their criminal activities, and he’s been on the other side of the blue line as the target of criminal investigations.

Since joining the Franklin Police Department 15 years ago, he’s been the focus of four criminal investigations conducted by police and prosecutors.

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In three of those instances, prosecutors investigated reports of a threat or domestic violence and decided not to file criminal charges. In the other instance, charges of misdemeanor battery and official misconduct were filed and later dismissed.

In total, police have been called 11 times to incidents regarding Burton.

He’s been involved in domestic battery reports, verbal disputes with his ex-wife or her family, threatened people and mentioned his position as a police officer when involved in personal disputes. He has called some of the people who have made police reports or filed a police complaint against him crazy or stupid, according to dozens of public records from across the county and an interview with Burton.

Within the police department, Burton has faced a range of disciplinary actions. Since 2015, he has been reprimanded three times, lost his take-home car privileges for 21 days and told that he must wear his seatbelt. Before that, he had been reassigned to patrolman and ordered to undergo alcohol evaluations.

At one point during his career, he was suspended without pay for falling asleep on the job.

And next week he goes in front of a board that has had to decide his fate before. Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan wants him fired, the second time the chief has sought his termination.

The five-member Franklin Police Merit Board hires and fires police officers and decides if they should be disciplined beyond what the chief is allowed to impose, which is five unpaid days.

He has been before the merit board several times before. In 2010, the then-mayor intervened on his behalf and he got a second chance at his career after a suspension. Since then, he has been suspended for altering his patrol car without permission and gotten in trouble for improper use of a statewide police department computer system.

Latest charges

The latest disciplinary charges are conduct unbecoming an officer and conduct injurious to the public peace or welfare, relating to his actions during a domestic dispute at his home Oct. 23 and statements he made to Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan in an earlier meeting.Burton said he is always quick to acknowledge when he has done wrong, and offered explanations for every incident outlined in police reports and merit commission records. He blames the police chief for giving him a bad reputation and not disciplining him fairly through the years.

No criminal charge was filed from the incident six months ago, and Burton has been on paid leave since that time, pending the disciplinary hearing that begins on Wednesday.

If the appointed police merit board members find that he is guilty of the disciplinary charges, they may choose to consider the breadth and depth of the allegations against Burton since he became a Franklin police officer in 2002 in determining what his punishment should be.

He has never been tried or convicted of a crime.

Domestic disputes

Five of the police reports taken are for domestic disputes between Burton and his wife, Jordan Burton.Burton blames the repeated domestic incidents, including domestic battery reports, on his wife’s behavior due to her disability related to a traumatic brain injury she suffered in a car crash almost 20 years ago. He said he plays the role of spouse, father and sometimes caregiver for his wife, and police have been called repeatedly to keep the peace. He has learned since his 2016 arrest how to better respond to his wife, and the two have reconciled and are in counseling.

In at least three of the domestic calls, both Bryan and Jordan Burton reported injuries or that they had been grabbed or slapped by their spouse, police reports say. In two of those reports, Jordan Burton told police that her husband had grabbed her arm.

At issue before the merit board is, in part, what happened at the Burton home on Oct. 23 and whether Burton’s likely conduct rises to the level of conduct unbecoming an officer or conduct injurious to the public peace or welfare. Police reports from that day and an interview with Burton this week tell different stories about what happened, but Burton said he did not grab his wife and that his lie detector test proves it.

Three years earlier, Franklin police had been called to his home due to a fight between the Burtons. The state police were called to conduct further investigation and both Burtons reported minor injuries, but didn’t cooperate with the additional investigation, and the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office did not file a charge.

The Franklin Police Department administration took no action against Burton in that case, but it is still an example of how he has been repeatedly targeted for discipline by O’Sullivan and Deputy Chief Chris Tennell, Burton said. Their targeting of him has required him, in some cases, to spend significant money to hire an attorney to defend him before the merit board through the years, he said.

“That particular, deal, if memory serves me correctly, was again pushed to an area it never should have been pushed to,” Burton said, referring to the 2013 domestic violence report. “Police came and handled it and said ‘We are out of here, typical husband-wife arguing and nothing more,” Burton said.

Placing blame

Police departments typically call outside agencies to investigate reports that involve an allegation against a police officer. Burton said the state police investigation was unnecessary and blames O’Sullivan for the investigation in 2013.When asked how O’Sullivan is to blame since the chief did not make the initial call to police that day, Burton said: “Right, I was,” in regards to who called police.

“I wanted peace. I wanted to settle her down,” Burton said, referring to his call to request a police officer come to his home because of his wife.

Police records show that Jordan Burton is who called police that day, and she is listed as the complainant in police reports.

Burton defends the number of domestic dispute calls to his home as not out of the ordinary and nothing that should raise concern from the public, again citing his wife’s ongoing disability.

“If you live in my world where you respond to 100 of these (domestic incidents) a year, it is typical,” Burton said.

He also noted how a change in state law took away officer discretion in making arrests during domestic battery reports, and in some cases, if a suspect has scratches from a victim, both are arrested.

He described some domestic violence calls police respond to as frivolous, and said police have to make arrests based on “little scratches.”

He said he loves being a police officer in Franklin, where he is raising his family and owns a construction business. He said his fellow officers trust him and want him to remain on the department. He said he is not the officer that the administration has made him out to be.

October incident

While the merit board can terminate an officer based solely on a criminal conviction, that is not the only prerequisite to firing an officer. An arrest, charge or criminal conviction are not required to fire a police officer.The merit board has broad discretion in determining whether actions rise to the level of conduct injurious to the public or conduct unbecoming an officer.

For example, the board could accept Burton’s assertion that he did not grab his wife and accept his lie detector test as evidence that he is being honest, even though the a photo of Jordan Burton’s injury was taken by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office that day and a child told a 911 dispatcher that Bryan Burton did grab his wife. The merit board could determine his other actions that day were unbecoming an officer.

Jordan Burton had returned to her Franklin home that day and become upset when she saw who was holding her child, she told the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were called to investigate. She took the child and her plan was to get in a vehicle and leave, the report said.

Bryan Burton told her she wasn’t taking the child, and he grabbed her arm in an attempt to keep her from getting to the car parked in the driveway, she told sheriff’s deputies. She told deputies she was able to get away from Burton and make it to the car, but the juvenile kept her from closing the door and got her car keys away from her, while Bryan Burton began removing the vehicle battery so that she could not use her spare set of keys and leave, the report said.

She told deputies that she had pain from her husband grabbing her arm, and the sheriff’s deputy saw what he described as a “significant red mark” and scratches, the report said. A child told deputies he called 911 when his mother asked him to, and that he saw his mother being grabbed by Bryan Burton, and that he told the 911 dispatcher what he saw, the report said.

The other juvenile told police that he took the car keys from Jordan Burton to keep her from leaving because he was concerned about the baby not being in a car seat, and that Jordan Burton had hit him in the head after he had gotten the car keys away from her, the report said, and deputies saw a slight red mark. Once Jordan Burton had hit the juvenile, Bryan Burton told Jordan, “You are going to jail today,” and started to take the battery out so she could not leave, the report said.

Burton offered a different version of events this week. He said that the couple had already separated, and that Jordan had dropped off the children to see him and had left, then decided she didn’t want to leave. She came back to the house, created the incident, then blamed Burton and his son, he said.

He was concerned about his wife driving in the state she was in that day and the safety of their infant, he said, and that he didn’t have time to call police, but was trying to pull a fuse out of her vehicle to keep her from leaving because she needed to go to jail after striking his teenage son, who had taken a physical stance to keep her from leaving, Burton said.

He discounts his stepson’s statement to the 911 dispatcher that he saw Burton grab his mom, and said that a domineering mother told the child to make the false statement.

“That is speculation, but I believe so,” Burton said. “Can I say that I heard her tell him that? No. Do I believe that’s what happened? Yes.”

When asked for an explanation of why his stepson, who refers to Burton as his father, would tell police he grabbed Jordan if he hadn’t, Burton raised the issue of the child being raised by a domineering woman. Jordan Burton will not be testifying before the merit board, Burton said.

Polygraph results

Burton paid for and took a lie detector test, and the results show that he was not deceptive in the two relevant questions posed to him — did he grab her arm; and did he grab her arm in an attempt to keep her from getting into the vehicle. He answered no to both questions.He said his infant’s head was flopping around in her arms, and she had no car seat for the baby, and that she was in no state to drive herself or the children.

“It caused me great concern,” he said.

Burton said he was working to pull a fuse out of her car because police had been called after she punched his son. He said he took these steps because he didn’t have time to call police, and that police had already been called.

Burton recalled saying in the moment: “You know what? I’ve had enough of your behavior, maybe, if you go to jail you’ll figure this out, because that’s the only thing else I know to do. I’m done with this. You can just go to jail.”

The two have since reconciled, and Burton points to marriage counseling, a focus on health care, and him learning how to better interact with his wife as the steps they have taken to prevent a similar incident from recurring.

The Burtons have a joint responsibility for how they reacted to each other, but the incident didn’t rise to the level of a crime, and the merit board won’t hear any witnesses say that he acted in a manner that was unbecoming, said Jay Hoffman, Burton’s attorney.

“All families have discord at some point in time,” Hoffman said. “It’s really unfortunate that, based on some physical conditions, that the Burton family’s discord played out on a public stage, but that they both have taken significant steps in recognizing the issues they need to work on, obtaining tools to work on those issues to prevent the recurrence of ratcheting up the discord to the point that police need to be called.

‘Things happen’

Burton said that O’Sullivan and Tennell have targeted him ever since he was permitted to bypass chain-of-command and not report to them when he worked as a narcotics detective about nine years ago, when O’Sullivan was deputy chief and Tennell was in charge of investigations.O’Sullivan and Tennell chose not to respond to the allegation on the advice of the department’s attorney due to the upcoming disciplinary hearing.

Burton offers examples of his unfair treatment, such as when he was caught sleeping on duty at a gas station while working the night shift, and a member of the public took a photo and sent it to the mayor. Burton went to the doctor later and discovered he had sleep apnea, but the chief suspended him for three days without pay despite his medical condition, Burton said. Other officers are not punished, he said.

“I understand it doesn’t look the greatest in the world, but things happen,” Burton said, regarding falling asleep on duty. “This is life.”

Nearly two years ago, Burton attended a Franklin Police Department officer training session, and asked O’Sullivan “why Franklin was seeing a large influx of black people, including thugs, out late at night,” according to minutes of a police merit board meeting. O’Sullivan informed the merit board of the incident and put a reprimand in Burton’s file, the minutes said.

Burton said he was shocked to learn this week that his comment was taken out of context and reported to the merit board. He was informing the chief about changing demographics and an increase in criminal calls during the night.

“We were seeing on night shift a ton of younger black males all over the city of Franklin roaming the streets at night, nowhere to go, no seemingly good place for why they are going from A to B. It was simply a conversation between officers, and I wasn’t the only one,” Burton said.

“It certainly has nothing to do with racism,” he said.

Neighbor incident

He said he can’t be responsible for what people reported to police in some of the other complaints against him. He recalled with detail the day in 2011 that his then-neighbor in Greenwood had gotten upset about where he was walking behind their condos and they got into an argument, but he doesn’t remember grabbing another man’s arm when the man came out to try to keep the peace.He said he wasn’t able to de-escalate the situation as a police officer due to the woman involved.

In another incident, Burton remembers getting a letter from his homeowner association management company telling him to take down his Christmas lights. The letter was threatening and was sent in a February ice storm, and he talked to the woman who sent the letter on the phone. He said she was unreasonable in demanding that he take down his lights and couldn’t understand that he would do it after the storm.

He said he did call her a name but doesn’t recall and can see no reason he would have had for telling her he was a police officer. She filed a complaint with the department, alleging that he did mention his job as a police officer.

He said it isn’t against the law to have an opinion that someone is not smart, and he was not disciplined.

“There just comes a point where you’ve just had enough of someone,” Burton said, noting that he just had to tell her “I’ve had enough of you. Shut up.”

When asked how the public could have faith in him due to the number of unrelated reports or complaints from across the county, over a matter of years, Burton said the reports are due to O’Sullivan attempting in 2011 to have him disciplined a second time for internal charges that had been resolved in 2010, “and making my name a household Johnson County name that is associated with these things that are not only untrue, but violated my processes, in my opinion.”

“He is saying they’ve put a target on his back,” Hoffman said.

Burton said he has worked hard, been noted for solving crimes, ran a successful narcotics operation and earned honors. He is particularly proud of his work to implement a program to deter teens from using drugs. Hoffman has personal experience with Burton working on the night shift and responding to emergency calls when residents are sleeping and believe they are safe.

At a glance

Conduct unbecoming an officer

The city’s Professional Code of Conduct defines conduct unbecoming a police officer in this way:

Officers shall not conduct themselves in a manner which brings the department in disrepute, or reflects discredit upon themselves or other members as a member of this department.

Officers shall not conduct themselves in a manner which impairs the operation or efficiency of the department or themselves.

Officers shall not participate in any incident which impairs their ability to perform their duties, or causes the department to be brought into disrepute.

Officers operating a city-owned vehicle, or in uniform or identifying themselves as police officers in any public place, or at any place within the City of Franklin, will be considered to be exhibiting themselves as police officers of this department.

Officers shall not directly or indirectly initiate, permit or participate in ex parte communications with any member of the merit commission concerning any pending or impending disciplinary proceeding of the merit commission. Any officer who reasonably believes such ex parte communication has occurred or been attempted between any officer and any member of the merit commission shall notify the chief or deputy chief within 24 hours of acquiring such belief.

At issue

The Franklin Police Merit Board will meet Wednesday to conduct a disciplinary hearing for Officer Bryan K. Burton.

Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan has asked that Burton be terminated.

The merit board has to determine whether Burton is guilty of a breach of discipline on the specific internal charges O’Sullivan has brought forth.

If they determine he is guilty, the merit board can elect to suspend, demote or terminate Burton, and also require additional training or programming.

At a glance

Coming next week

How the merit board works

While attorneys for Franklin police officer Bryan Burton and the police department will present evidence and call witnesses during the disciplinary hearing, the matter doesn’t mirror a courtroom. We explain the difference. At issue is whether Burton gets to keep his job.

Coming next week

The hearing will unfold much like a criminal charge in court — with attorneys for the police department and Burton making arguments, calling witnesses and presenting evidence, and the merit board acting as the jury. But in a criminal court, the jury can only convict if the evidence shows the suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. At the disciplinary hearing, the merit board only has to consider whether the police department has presented a preponderance of evidence showing that Burton more likely than not acted unbecoming an officer, said Bill Barrett, the attorney for the police merit commission. A preponderance of evidence only requires that the merit board believe the allegations against Burton are more likely true than not, Barrett said.

See also a career timeline for Bryan Burton: http://www.dailyjournal.net/?p=233124&preview_id=233124&preview_nonce=c2efe86fbe&post_format=standard&preview=true

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