A Franklin police officer has been fired for what the merit board has determined was conduct unbecoming an officer during a domestic dispute at his home, during which he was arrested.
Bryan K. Burton was terminated by the Franklin Police Merit Commission this week in a 4-1 vote by the appointed board, bringing to an end his 15-year career at the Franklin Police Department.
He’s been suspended by the board two times earlier in his career, and arrested on criminal charges twice, but never tried or convicted.
The board was split, voting 4-1 and 3-2, on whether Burton was liable for the two disciplinary charges against him.
Burton had begged for his job during the final stages of the disciplinary hearing and appealed to the merit board’s sense of decency and humanity, saying that he should be held to a higher standard as a police officer, but that he is still human.
He and his attorney Jay Hoffman had asked for a 60-day suspension instead of termination, with a psychiatric evaluation and clinical counseling, then return to the merit board for resolution.
Burton said he loves the city, is a good police officer and would take a bullet for a fellow officer.
“If you hand down a sentence less than termination, me and my family will be forever grateful,” he said.
The police department and its attorney presented Burton as an officer who has made contributions, but treats people poorly, can’t control himself and brings dishonor to the police department. Police department attorney Doug Kessler cautioned the merit board that putting Burton back on the force would be a risk, and that no other police officer on the department has been arrested twice.
“We’re going to lose the confidence of the community if we have an officer who has been arrested himself continue to serve,” Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan said.
Merit board members Jeremy Fish, Kyle Kasting, Annette Sivels and John Shafer voted to terminate Burton. Member Joey Hollis voted against termination. The 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.
Burton can appeal his firing through the county courts.
He has a history of being disciplined by the chief and the merit board and has been the focus of four criminal investigations conducted by police and prosecutors during his career.
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. Within the police department, Burton has faced disciplinary actions including three reprimands, suspensions without pay, losing his take-home car privileges, and a reassignment.
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.
“The gentleman will not stand up and take account for who he is and what he’s done,” Kessler said. “That’s dangerous.”
At issue this time was whether Burton was guilty of two internal disciplinary charges: conduct unbecoming an officer and conduct injurious to the public peace and welfare. The charges stem from Burton’s Oct. 23 arrest on a felony domestic battery charge and statements he made to the police chief in a meeting days before his arrest.
A special prosecutor decided Burton and his wife should not face criminal charges from the incident, but O’Sullivan sought Burton’s termination.
Burton’s attorney and the attorney for the Franklin Police Department had presented evidence and questioned witnesses in a court-like hearing before the merit board two weeks ago, and this week’s meeting was for the merit board to issue a decision about whether he was guilty of the disciplinary charges and what, if any, his punishment should be. Both sides again called witnesses to testify.
Kessler drove home broader points about Burton’s attitude, demeanor and conduct and told the board that Burton always has someone else to blame — the police chief, attorneys or his wife’s emotional state — in every instance where his actions are called into question.
For example, when Burton kept interrupting Kessler during questioning, Kessler asked Burton if his wife was allowed to finish her sentences, and also asked why he never disputed the contents of his police department employee file until after the chief sought to have him fired. Burton said he had once before.
Burton and O’Sullilvan were questioned about complaints and internal investigations in Burton’s file dating back to 2005.
Kessler brought up additional incidents involving Burton that haven’t been disclosed to the public before, such as him being banned from a local restaurant and employing in his construction business a person he investigated for domestic battery, but Burton couldn’t recall what Kessler was talking about or said that he chose on his own not to frequent the eatery.
The police department’s case for termination focused on the repeated patterns of domestic disputes, in some cases battery, between Burton and his wife, and Burton’s failure to take ownership for his actions.
Burton told the board that he has taken responsibility and has learned to control the tone and volume of his voice, and now seeks his lay counselor’s help when needed.
He said other officers have been involved, some even more heavily than him, in incidents he has been punished for, yet they were not investigated or suspended, and that other items were placed in his personnel file without the chief ever telling him they would be.
Burton and Hoffman repeated that Burton has learned how to react to his wife better, conducted himself professionally during the police investigation at his home last year and that other officers want him on the force, but the matter at hand did not justify washing away his career.
Two police officers testified on Burton’s behalf, saying they want him on dangerous calls with them because of his ability to quickly assess a situation, act rapidly with good instinct and selflessly.
Sgt. Jayson McNicholas testified that if he was in a fight for his life, he would want Burton by his side.
When Kessler asked McNicholas whether a “good cop,” as he had characterized Burton, is arrested two times, McNicholas asked whether Burton was on duty at the time.
“My testimony is when I’m working with him, he’s a good cop,” McNicholas said. “I don’t know what he does on his time off.”
Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett, who intentionally was not involved and did not attend any of the proceedings, said he was pleased the merit board took the matter seriously and considered all the evidence in reaching a decision.
“The citizens of Franklin expect more of its police officers and I’m glad to see the police merit system working,” Barnett said.
Hoffman initially tried to get the merit board to throw out the proceedings because O’Sullivan hadn’t conducted a departmental investigation, as required in city rules and the law. But the law and city rules don’t outline the scope of the investigation that needs to take place before a chief asks the merit board to sanction an officer, and the hearing proceeded.
During the hearing two weeks ago, the police department argued that Burton had been trained in how to de-escalate a situation and knew his wife’s history, but instead grabbed her in the presence of children and acted in an angry, violent way Oct. 23.
Hoffman said that the police officer had done everything he could to keep his wife and children from being injured that day, he didn’t have time to think to tell his teenage son to stop interfering in the dispute and that he has tried for years to help manage his wife’s permanent disability from a traumatic brain injury and the problems that it causes in their marriage.
The Franklin Police Merit Commission conducted an eight-hour hearing April 19 and had to decide whether it was more likely than not that Burton behaved in such a way during the domestic incident at his home as to bring dishonor and disrespect to the police department. Twelve people testified, including eight officers of the Franklin Police Department and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
Burton testified that he was concerned about his infant son’s safety and didn’t think it was safe for Jordan Burton to be driving herself or their children in what he called her irrational state. He is adamant that he did not grab her, but the police department had offered a child’s statement to a 911 dispatcher and bruises that were photographed on Jordan Burton’s arm as evidence that he did.
Hoffman had asked the merit board to consider how cooperative Burton was with the responding officers at his home that day, his willingness to answer questions, that the chief jumped to a request for termination without additional investigation, that Burton had told his immediate supervisors about his problems at home through the years and that the disciplinary charge relating to the conversation in the chief’s office was intended by the Franklin Police Department to make Burton look bad.
Further, Burton offered to take a lie detector test and when the chief refused to offer one, he paid for a test himself, which showed that he was not deceptive in saying that he did not grab his wife, he and Hoffman said.
“These aren’t the actions of someone who committed battery,” Hoffman said at the disciplinary hearing.