HARTSHORNE — A former Hartshorne police chief accused the city of wrongful termination in a tort claim.
Attorneys for Jeremy Pierce prepared a tort claim against the city of Hartshorne for damages he alleges were the result of retaliation and wrongful termination as police chief in November 2018. Hartshorne city attorney Richard Lerblance told councilors they have 90 days to accept or reject the claim, recommending the city not take action.
“You don’t do anything until after the 90 days and it’s up to them if they want to file a lawsuit,” Lerblance told councilors.
Then-Mayor Joy Cline suspended Pierce with pay Oct. 29, 2018, before rescinding the suspension and firing him Nov. 7, 2018 in a letter that stated Pierce’s termination was “for the good of the service.”
Pierce was appointed as Hartshorne’s police chief in May 2017 after voters approved a proposition calling for the position to be appointed by the mayor with approval of the city council.
Oklahoma law allows removals and suspensions “solely for the good of the service” and states that an appointed employee “may be suspended, demoted, laid off or removed by the mayor.”
Cline listed reasons for her decision in a January 2019 due process hearing requested by Pierce. The former mayor stated a dog-bite incident was mishandled by the police department; Cline alleged Pierce screamed at an employee who later quit, and she criticized an officer who did not seek medical treatment after an injury and later filed a workers compensation claim against the city.
City Attorney Richard Lerblance said during the hearing that Oklahoma is considered an at-will state and Cline didn’t have to show cause to fire an employee. An attorney for Pierce responded that Cline supplied a list of causes and she wasn’t "terminating him for no cause.”
Cline said it was a series of events, adding alleged insubordination, too few arrest warrants being served, and lack of inventory and evidence log in the police evidence room to her complaints.
Lerblance showed a document Pierce signed when he started as police chief that stated he could be terminated without cause — but Pierce’s attorney again contended Cline’s list of reasons showed he was fired “for cause.”
The council upheld Cline’s decision with a 5-3 vote at the hearing.
Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at email@example.com