LOUISVILLE – Louisville’s interim police chief took a first step toward firing Officer Brett Hankison on Friday, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to happen.
Before the chief’s decision becomes official, he will sit down with Hankison and his legal counsel for a “pre-termination hearing,” during which Hankison can respond to allegations and make a case for a lesser punishment in the case of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American emergency medical technician who was fatally shot on March 13 as police entered to serve a no-knock warrant.
And even after the chief makes a final decision, there are due process rights granted to police officers under Kentucky state law and the collective bargaining agreement between the police union and city that lay out specific procedures and rights to appeal.
Here’s what to know:
‘Intention to terminate’
Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder’s letter to Hankison on Friday notified him of the chief’s intent to terminate his employment.
The letter laid out the charges that form the basis of that decision, accusing Hankison of “blindly” firing 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment and creating a “substantial danger of death and serious injury.”
Schroeder writes that Hankison violated department policies concerning obedience to rules and regulations and use of deadly force.
“I find your conduct a shock to the conscience,” Schroeder wrote. “I am alarmed and stunned you used deadly force in this fashion.”
Specifically, he says that Hankison’s actions displayed an “extreme indifference to the value of human life” and that he failed to verify anyone was an immediate threat or if there were any innocent people present when he fired his weapon from outside Taylor’s apartment into a patio door and windows with curtains.
Hankison will have a chance to respond to the allegations in the pre-termination hearing, where he and his legal representation will be permitted to make a case as to why he shouldn’t be fired.
That’s expected to take place in the coming week, said attorney David Leightty, who will represent Hankison in that meeting.
After that, Schroeder will issue a final decision. Only then would Hankison’s termination become official, should that be the chief’s decision.
An appeal to the Police Merit Board
If the chief’s decision is to dismiss, demote or suspend him for more than 40 hours, then Hankison would have the right to request a hearing from the Police Merit Board.
That request would have to be made in writing within 10 days of Schroeder’s ruling.
Per state law, the merit board has five members appointed by the mayor and approved by Metro Council, who serve four-year terms. The board is tasked with reviewing police applicants and setting rules around promotions, qualifications and discipline for officers.
It can also review the chief’s disciplinary decisions, determining whether the action was “unjustified or unsupported by proper evidence.”
Any hearing would be open to the public, and the merit board could consider only evidence presented there. If it determines the action was unjustified, it can set aside the chief’s order and create a new penalty.
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Mark Dobbins, an attorney for the merit board, said Friday that in many past cases, officers who have criminal matters pending will ask for the merit board proceeding to be held “in abeyance,” meaning delayed until the resolution of the criminal case.
That could mean that any hearing for Hankison would wait until after a decision on criminal charges is made by the state attorney general and U.S. Department of Justice, and until after any future cases are resolved.
In discipline cases, two police officers elected by LMPD to two-year terms serve as additional members of the board, with voting powers.
One of those two police officers, in recent years, has been Hankison.
The rules set out how board members who are appointed by the mayor can be removed “for neglect, incapacity, misfeasance or malfeasance.” It does not lay out how a police officer would be removed.
One of the requirements of serving, however, is that you are a police officer.
If a vacancy comes up during an officer’s two-year term on the merit board, a new election is supposed to be held within 60 days of the date of the vacancy.
Merit board rules say employees may be disciplined for “any cause which promotes the efficiency of the service.” That includes:
Incompetency or inefficiency in job performance.
Conduct unbecoming, either on- or off-duty.
Violations of departmental rules, Metro-wide policies or laws.
Behavior that threatened or injured the health and safety of the employee or of others.
Absence without leave.
Solicitation or acceptance of gift or remuneration outside of regular compensation.
An officer has the right to appeal the merit board’s decision within 30 days to circuit court.
Follow Darcy Costello on Twitter: @dctello.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Breonna Taylor case: What’s next in firing of officer Brett Hankison?