Merit board to consider case

5-member group to act on officer’s termination request from chief

Five Franklin residents will be asked to consider whether a city police officer is guilty of internal disciplinary charges and, ultimately, if he should lose his job.

The Franklin Police Merit Commission oversees hiring, promoting, punishing and — if needed — firing the nearly 50-member Franklin Police Department. The commission members are Franklin residents who were appointed by the mayor or the city council or selected by the officers.

They’ll meet this week in a quasi-judicial administration hearing to listen to a request from police Chief Tim O’Sullivan to terminate 15-year officer Bryan K. Burton on grounds that Burton acted in a manner injurious to the public peace and welfare and engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer during a meeting with the chief in October and during a domestic incident at his home. He does not face criminal charges.

The hearing will unfold much like a criminal charge in court — with attorneys for the police department and Burton making arguments, calling witnesses to testify under oath and presenting evidence, and the merit board acting as the jury. The board can suspend an officer with or without pay, demote him, fire him or take no action.

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 believes the allegations against Burton are more likely true than not, Barrett said.

The criminal review, which already was completed by a special prosecutor and resulted in no charge being filed, and disciplinary hearing are separate proceedings, but both arise from a common set of alleged facts, Barrett said.

The internal charges Burton is facing are not dependent on his arrest, a criminal charge or a conviction. The merit board proceedings and potential discipline can stand independent of a criminal case.

The merit board can automatically terminate any police officer if he or she is convicted of a crime, according to the board’s rules and procedures.

But a criminal conviction isn’t the only cause for termination.

The merit board can discipline police officers if an officer is found guilty of neglect of duty, violation of the commission’s rules, neglect or disobedience of orders, continuing incapacity, absence without leave, immoral conduct, conduct injurious to the public health or welfare, conduct unbecoming a police officer or for giving a candidate for a job or promotion information that gives that person an advantage over other applicants, according to merit board rules.

The hearing begins Wednesday. The board is expected to announce a decision May 2.

Burton has been on paid leave for nearly six months while attorneys for Burton and the police department prepare for the hearing, which could take two days.

The hearing also was delayed earlier this year because a member of the merit board who is selected by the police department stepped down. Police officers selected Joey Hollis in a department-wide election.

Burton earns $51,004 per year and has continued to be paid while he was suspended from the department after his arrest. As chief, O’Sullivan can suspend an officer for five days without pay, but other punishment must be decided by the merit board.

After Burton’s five-day suspension, he has continued to be paid by the city and accumulate vacation and other time-off benefits, according to the city clerk-treasurer’s office.

Merit board rules state that the board will decide if a police officer suspended for more than five days will be paid during the suspension, but the rules don’t specify whether the suspension is considered a punishment or is pending a disciplinary hearing, city attorney Lynn Gray said.

For that reason, the merit board did not take a vote on whether to pay Burton for the past several months. If Burton is fired, the city could ask him to pay back what he has been paid since late October, Gray said.

At a glance

Who is involved

Bryan K. Burton: 15-year veteran of the Franklin Police Department who is facing two disciplinary charges and a recommendation of termination

Jay Hoffman: Burton’s attorney

Tim O’Sullivan: Chief of the Franklin Police Department

Doug Kessler: Attorney for the police department for the disciplinary hearing

Bill Barrett: Attorney for the Franklin Police Merit Board

Members of the Franklin Police Merit Board are:

Jeremy Fisk, mayoral appointment

Joey Hollis, selected by the police department

Kyle Kasting, mayoral appointment

John Shafer, Franklin City Council appointment

Annette Sivels, selected by the police department

At a glance

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. Those charges are conduct injurious to the public peace and welfare and conduct unbecoming an officer.

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

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