Cairo mayor fires two cops, dispatcher

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The three were fired for violating policy and not admitting responsibility for their actions, Mayor Paul Farris said.

CAIRO, Ill. -- Three Cairo police employees were fired Monday for violating department policies in connection to the death of a jail inmate. Two others were able to keep their jobs.

Mayor Paul F. Farris fired Lt. Gary Hankins, Lt. Timothy Brown, and dispatcher Don Beggs from their positions with the Cairo Police Department effective Monday.

Also on Monday, Farris lifted the suspension of dispatcher Legina Meyers. A fifth employee, patrolman Terry Crowe, had his suspension lifted about a week and a half ago.

The five employees had previously been suspended without pay in connection to the death of Demetrius Flowers, 38, who was arrested early Dec. 14 , brought to the city jail, and found dead in his cell around 9 that morning.

A preliminary autopsy found that Flowers died of strangulation. He was reportedly found hanging by shoelaces in his cell.

The five suspensions were issued Dec. 19 as officials investigated whether the employees had failed in their duties in connection to the death, particularly in how Flowers was able to obtain shoelaces, Farris said. Foul play is not suspected, he added.

In recent weeks, Farris and some members of the city council have been at odds, and the firing brought new criticism. "This is a little hasty," Councilman Bobby Whitaker said of the terminations. "If he (Farris) is doing this because they didn't follow procedure, then they need to fire Terry Crowe."

While all five had violated police policies, only Crowe and Meyers admitted to doing so and had dropped grievances filed against the department. Neither are seeking retroactive pay for their time on suspension, Farris said.

When asked if it was fair to fire some employees and not others who admitted committing the same infraction, Farris said yes.

"The key is acceptance of wrongdoing," he said. Hankins, Brown and Beggs were all told they could be terminated if they did not admit to violating the policies.

"I think I was fair in the amount of time I gave them," he said. The mayor did not consult the council before issuing the terminations and reinstatement, adding that he did not need to.

Flowers was arrested and processed by Brown, who showed up before his 4 a.m. shift began. Hankins and Crowe were to finish their shifts at 4 a.m., with Brown replacing Hankins as the station commander, Farris said.

Since both lieutenants were on duty when Flowers was processed, both were responsible for ensuring Flowers had nothing in his cell that shouldn't be there, such as the shoelaces, Farris said.

"When you are the high-ranking power, you are responsible," the mayor said.

At one point, Crowe was asked to check Flowers, but all he found was a wallet, which was placed in a locker with the inmate's other belongings, including a pair of shoes and shoelaces.

A pair of shoes was later found underneath the bunk in the cell. It is not clear how Flowers obtained the shoelaces.

After Flowers was placed in the cell, Cairo police dispatchers were responsible for watching over any inmates in the lockup. They must physically check each cell every 30 to 40 minutes, Farris said.

Meyers was relieved by Beggs, who came in at 6 a.m., he said. While the pair recorded their checks, they did not do them, he said.

The Illinois State Police are investigating the death and are in possession of a videotape of Flowers in his holding cell.

Flowers' mother, Deborah Flowers, said none of the five employees should be allowed back at work.

"All of them should have been fired," she said. Flowers declined to comment on what, if any, legal action her family may be taking.

Southeast Missourian writer Rudi Keller contributed to this report.

335-6611 extension 127

335-6611 extension 126

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