Chaffee police chief appealed dismissal over dog shooting incident

Thursday, March 29, 2012

CHAFFEE, Mo. -- Chaffee's former police chief wants his job back after he was fired earlier this month by city council members in a closed session for alleged misconduct.

Jim Chambers was fired following the shooting of a Chaffee family's dog and subsequent efforts to cover it up.

Four city council members say Chambers submitted an appeal to the city March 16 but that reinstatement isn't possible per city ordinance, nor will it be allowed if left up to them.

"It just can't happen," city council member Ryan Pennington said. "He missed the deadline."

According to city ordinance, Chambers had 10 days from the date he was let go to file an appeal.

Chambers was fired during a closed session meeting March 1 that also saw the resignation of three city council members. Those resignations were later rescinded. The firing of the chief went against a recommendation by the city's police personnel board.

Minutes from an open-session meeting March 19 show council members Darlene Crocker, Ron Davis and Jerry Childers voted to reject their own resignations. Votes from council members Doug Sutterfield, Dennis Glastetter, Jack Nordin and Ryan Pennington were among those that approved firing Chambers and later tried to stop allowing the three resigning members to rejoin the council.

Glastetter said Wednesday that Crocker, Davis and Childers were wrong in voting to reject their resignations and that he and other council members are seeking legal advice on the matter. Councilwoman Ann Whistler also voted to reject the resignations. The tie was broken by Chaffee Mayor Steve Loucks with a vote in support of rejecting the resignations. Sutterfield said he is considering contacting the Missouri Ethics Commission for information to determine what actions by council members were appropriate.

The votes stem from a February incident that prompted an investigation by the Scott County Sheriff's Department. The investigation led to the department asking for charges to be filed against the police chief and mayor. The incident also led to the shutdown of the city's animal pound by the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

A Chaffee Police Department incident summary from Feb. 19 reports one of its officers shot and killed a dog after being ordered to by the police chief and mayor.

Soon after, Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd was approached by the sheriff's department seeking false declaration charges against the chief and the mayor, as well as animal abuse charges against the mayor. Boyd passed the case to Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Barbour to avoid conflict of interest. Barbour responded last week that he did not believe a criminal conviction was possible and recommended looking at a civil suit.

The report, filed by the officer who shot the dog, states the mayor and the police chief ordered him and a city worker to take the dog to the city's compost site and shoot it. Chaffee Police Department call logs from the day of the incident also show the police chief telling the dispatcher not to tell the dog's owner, Jennifer Elfrink, what happened. Elfrink called the department three times Feb. 19 to report the dog missing and notify police she was driving through town looking for the dog with her children in the car until late at night.

Elfrink filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture a short time after she learned of her dog's fate from an employee of the police department. The department ordered the city to cease the operation following a March 6 inspection that found the facility was unlicensed and violated the department's standards for licensure. Council members questioned the chief about the Feb. 19 incident and his actions during the closed session meeting.

Before Chambers was fired, the city's police personnel board was asked to make a recommendation to the council. City attorney David Summers was asked by a member of the public during the March 19 open session to share the board's recommendation and inquired to whether it was followed by the council.

Summers declined to share or explain the board's recommendation as he had during the open session when contacted by the Southeast Missourian Wednesday. Summers said it was not his responsibility to give the information and did not have appropriate documentation on hand to do so. City administrator Lee Horton also declined to release the recommendation because he said he was bound to seek permission from city council members first and referred the request to the board's chairman.

According to council members who viewed the recommendation, the board did not support firing Chambers.

"They found no reason to suspend him or take disciplinary action," Pennington said.

Pennington said the recommendation did state the board would revisit the issue and take action if charges were filed against Chambers.

A majority of council members disagreed and said the answers they got from Chambers about the dog shooting incident versus the evidence they saw was too much to allow him to continue in his job.

Nordin said during his 16 years as a council member, he's never seen things get so bad in Chaffee city government. Nordin, along with Davis, Sutterfield and Whistler, is up for re-election next week.

Still, Nordin said, he'll put his seat "on the line" to see that the situation with the mayor, the police chief and the council is improved, even if it means an attempt to impeach Loucks.

Attempts to reach Crocker, Davis, Childers, Whistler and the mayor Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The council's next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. Monday at Chaffee City Hall.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

Chaffee, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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