Bowen hearing addresses alleged violations

Jacob Smith • Jan 11, 2018 at 5:48 PM

Former Lebanon Police chief Scott Bowen, who was reinstated to his position in chancery court in November, attended a pre-action disciplinary hearing Thursday at 2 p.m. with Mayor Bernie Ash and city attorney Andy Wright.

According to Lebanon Human Resources Director Sylvia Reichle, attorneys advised Ash that while the chancery court ruling said the prior disciplinary process was flawed, the ruling didn’t say the reasons for his termination were not valid. Reichle said Ash reviewed the evidence and determined there was cause for concern.

The purpose of the hearing was to inform Bowen of the disciplinary actions he was accused of and give him a chance to offer testimony on the issues.

The notice of hearing listed nine incidents, which Ash said all contributed to Bowen’s initial firing. According to Bowen’s attorney Keith Williams, the reasons offered were the exact same reasons offered in court three years ago when Bowen was originally fired. Bowen said when he was asked to make a statement on the reasons, he simply handed Ash the transcript of the testimony he originally gave in court.

“It’s the same exact reasons,” said Bowen. “My memory from three years ago is better than my memory now.”

“We’re in the exact same place we were before,” said Williams. “I’m assuming they’re going to terminate Mr. Bowen again. All they’re doing is wasting taxpayer money. There’s a hearing in February to determine court costs, and not only are they running up the city’s attorney fees, but they’re running up what they’re going to have to pay Mr. Bowen for hiring me.”

A formal determination from Thursday’s hearing was not immediately issued as Ash had up to five business days to make a decision.

“The hearing notification and evidence packet shows multiple policy violations, including state and federal law violations, occurred during Bowen’s employment with the city,” said Reichle. “Currently the city’s insurance company is pursuing an appeal of the chancery court ruling.”

The first reason given by Ash was an incident in 2014 that involved a change in the city charter that made Public Safety its own department within the city. When that change took place, five Public Safety officers, including current police Chief Mike Justice, continued to use the police department’s originating agency identification number for access to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center database.

Wright previously said Bowen told a police administrator to contact TBI and ask the agency whether the five officers could access a state federal database for criminal history, driver’s license, tag information and other sensitive information used by law enforcement agencies.

Since Public Safety became its own department through the charter change, it didn’t have its own identification number for the TBI system because it previously operated as a division of the police department. Each law enforcement agency is assigned its own identification number.

Wright also said Bowen was correct to notify TBI of the Public Safety officers, but it was the way he went about doing it that ultimately cost him his job. He said Bowen was fired for not telling anyone about the noncompliance issue between the five Lebanon Public Safety officers and TBI.

The second reason was an incident from November 2014 in which Bowen allegedly refused a request from then Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead to add Public Safety officers Mike Justice and William Glover to an email distribution list or to add computer-aided dispatch to the Public Safety computers.

Bowen said in his testimony at the initial hearing, he never received the email regarding the instructions. He said Craighead sent the email to “Scott Bowen” in the mailing list, when his correct name is “Scotty Bowen.” He further said the reason he didn’t add Justice and Glover to the email distribution list was because some of the information sent to members of that list wasn’t true, and he wanted to control the information coming out of his department.

The third reason was from an incident in September 2014 when Bowen allegedly harassed an employee due to the employee’s health problems. Ash said Bowen refused to reclassify the employee as a captain and gave the employee an ultimatum “captain or cancer, which is it?” while imitating a balanced set of scales. Bowen reportedly advised the employee he needed to choose between his health and a promotion. The employee also said, in a written statement, that Bowen harassed him after he issued formal complaints to elected officials about his treatment.

Bowen denied ever issuing the ultimatum, saying instead that the mayor called him to his office to see about making the employee a captain. Bowen reportedly told the mayor that because of the employee’s health issues, he didn’t think he’d be able to handle the job requirements. Bowen also said he helped the employee reduce the amount of duties he had to make it easier on him because of his condition. When the employee later asked if he could be reclassified as a captain, Bowen told him that to be reclassified, he would have to take on more duties, and he didn’t think the employee could handle more duties.

The fourth incident was from a fatal car crash Nov. 12, 2013. Lebanon police Officer Robert Bates claims Bowen took pictures of the accident and sent them to The Lebanon Democrat before the family of the victim could be notified. Bates said when he went to tell the mother of the victim, she had already seen the pictures on The Lebanon Democrat’s website.

Bowen said in his testimony that while he did agree to send The Lebanon Democrat’s editor pictures from the scene, he had no plans to do so until after the family was notified. When he called the editor around two hours later, he was told they had already received pictures from somebody else. Bowen said the pictures from a Facebook user were the pictures he was accused of sending.

The fifth incident was from Nov. 21, 2014, when Lebanon police Lt. Scott Massey said Bowen sent a press release to The Lebanon Democrat during an active investigation. Massey said the timing of the press release interfered with the investigation and its release caused officers to have to abandon it. Massey said Bowen refused to pull the release even after he was told it was jeopardizing.

Bowen said he was never informed the investigation was ongoing, rather he got a call from an officer on the scene and was told everything was secure. He said at this point news agencies started calling asking what was going on, and he made the decision to give them the information because it was a crowded area close to a school.

The sixth incident involved a fatal crash on Interstate 40 where Bowen was told by a district attorney to let Tennessee Highway Patrol officers to take over the scene. Two officers who worked the scene gave statements Bowen lost his temper and started screaming at Lebanon police officers to leave the scene immediately.

In a statement on the incident, Bowen said he was upset, and it was a slap in the face to him and to his department to have the accident taken away. He also said he waited until the Tennessee Highway Patrol had six-to-eight officers on scene before sending Lebanon police officers home. Bowen said if someone from the Lebanon Police Department made a mistake after they were no longer the investigating team, it would come back to them. He reportedly asked troopers numerous times if they needed anything and was told they had everything under control.

Bowen agreed he was more direct in his approach with his staff that night, because there were four dead people and a lot of work to do. He said he never yelled or used swear words at any point during the evening, but he was blunt and direct with his staff because the situation called for it.

The seventh incident happened January 2014 when Bowen allegedly verbally berated Lebanon police evidence custodian Sid Cripps. Cripps said Bowen yelled at him in front of another Lebanon police employee for losing CALEA accreditation forms.

Bowen said he did raise his voice to Cripps during this incident. He also said the reason he was so upset was because this was a culmination of several years of employees complaining Cripps didn’t know how to do his job. Cripps reportedly lost several pieces of important evidence, as well as the CALEA accreditation forms.

The eighth charge was from a 2011 incident when Bowen allegedly created a position in the police department called crime analyst and staffed the position with a police officer without publicizing the vacancy and securing applicants and without proper approval from the mayor or city council. The police officer assigned to the role was classified as a patrol officer in the city’s finance, personnel and payroll systems and received no adjustment to pay or relevant job description.

Bowen responded he didn’t create a full-time position, rather he simply gave more work to an employee. He said the crime analyst job wasn’t enough work to necessitate a full-time employee, so he gave it to an employee in lieu of other assignments.

The last charge simply said all the previous charges violated the employee conduct and working relationships portion of the city of Lebanon rules and regulations. 

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