Fired Doesn’t Always Mean Fired For Civil Service Workers

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(Memphis) Lonnie Richardson desperately tried to save his own life.

The 34-year-old was shot in the chest after a dispute with another man over a woman.

Police detectives say Richardson was shot in the street.

He made his way to a house where he knocked on the door. It was a few hours before dawn on that hot June morning. No one answered.

Then he did the one thing he thought might save him. He called 911.

He couldn’t speak, but the operator noticed that he had trouble breathing.

She passed the call to police dispatcher Clifton Cattron.

Richardson waited for 12 minutes before his last chance for help was accidentally disconnected by Cattron. His body was found at the end of a stranger’s driveway.

Johnetta Nesbitt’s son, who works the graveyard shift, stopped by her house to eat on his break.

He told his mother there was a man on the sidewalk who was probably drunk and passed out.

“So I went out there to see, and the man didn’t say nothing, so I came back in the house and called the police. I called 911,” said Nesbitt.

This time help arrived in five minutes, but it was too late.

The Memphis Police Department fired Cattron for neglect of duty.

He appealed his termination to the Civil Service Commission.

Three commissioners, which is a quorum on the seven-member board, gave him his job back.

MPD appealed the case to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee.

The court ruled in Cattron’s favor. The case took two years before Cattron went back to work. He was awarded full back pay.

His case is one of dozens the commission hears every year. Decisions seem arbitrary, but the commissioners say they follow the letter of the law, which doesn’t always make sense when a person dies because of someone’s mistake.

“The standard is whether the city had reasonable grounds to take the action,” said Jill Madajczyk, the city’s deputy director for human resources.

In this case, the commission looked at the disciplinary action taken against other dispatchers who disconnected calls.

They were only given suspensions.

Regardless of what happened at the other end of the disconnected phone call, the commission made sure the law was applied equally, according to the details in the decision.

Then there’s the case of Jack Vincent.

He worked as a patrolman out of the west precinct but prowled Internet chat rooms under the screen name UnkleCreepy.

The FBI and local law enforcement nabbed him heading to the home of a teenage girl who performed sex acts for him online.

He told investigators he was rescuing her from an abusive relationship with her stepfather.

The department fired him, but no charges were brought against him.

And the commission believed his story about his good intentions of trying to save the girl from an abusive stepfather.

Commissioners gave him his job back. MPD appealed the decision to Shelby County Chancery Court, which ruled that Vincent’s intentions were beside the point. The court upheld his firing.

Finally, there’s Officer Michael Kearney. He admitted to pulling a woman over for a traffic stop, writing a ticket and then later ripping it up. An hour later he was off duty.

He showed up at that woman’s house to have sex with her.

Afterward, he took his used condom but left his service weapon at her house.

The department fired Kearney. This time the commission upheld the firing, in a decision filed this month.

The commission said he violated the code of conduct and ethics, leading News Channel 3 to ask how the commission reaches its decisions.

“Well, we don’t have privy to the deliberations that the commissioners go through, basically three individuals making the decisions and I think it would be impossible to do an analysis of why they ruled,” Madajczyk said.

None of the seven commissioners, who are all volunteers, wanted to talk about the rulings.

Our research shows they give fired workers in a variety of departments their jobs about half the time.

Around 5,500 employees are eligible to appeal disciplinary action or termination to the commission.