CINCINNATI – Former city Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell may have grounds to claim his firing was political and challenge that the city had cause to fire him, a local employment law attorney says.
But both sides might do well to settle the matter out of court, said attorney George Reul of Freking & Betz Law.
City Manager Harry Black's report on the firing leaves Blackwelll several avenues for challenge, Reul said.
"It was definitely crafted from a legal perspective to establish cause and there's certainly room, I think, for Chief Blackwell to challenge that cause - political firing - is not cause," Reul told WCPO Thursday.
READ Black's report here or below.
"Now obviously the city has a different position, I'm sure. Harry Black has a different position on the basis, but there's certainly room for the chief to challenge whether or not the cause existed."
Reul said Blackwell could challenge personal statements from his command staff that Black used to support his firing.
"I do think it's interesting in terms of the support that Harry Black attached to his firing memorandum [statements from] three of the individuals he has appointed to run the police department on an interim basis," Reul said. "All gave statements against the chief, so that may be ground for him to attack that."
Several officers complained about being harshly reprimanded by Blackwell or witnessing such an incident, but Reul questioned if that contributed to cause.
"To me, reprimanding employees doesn't seem to be cause unless there was a specific policy or procedure against it," Reul said.
According to Black's report, Blackwell created "a work environment of hostility and retaliation." Black said Blackwell "uses verbal abuse and insult to convey authority."
Black attached personal statements from two assistant chiefs, five captains, four other officers and a civilian who works as a public information officer.
Reul suggested that other accusations against Blackwell – including that he asked a captain to ask teams to give him free sporting event tickets or that he didn't accurately account for the work time – probably don't support cause for termination.
Here's what Reul said about the tickets:
"It wouldn't surprise me if that's something that has gone on for a long time and goes on. In some ways I don't think those types of things necessarily needed to be mentioned.
About Blackwell's time reports:
"I also read in Harry Black's report that he made mention that the former chief's family is still living in Columbus and I'm not sure why that's in there. It seems to be again personal in some respect and possibly political. But, again I wasn't involved in those discussions."
Blackwell said Wednesday that he intends to sue the city over his firing. But because the legal process in this case could take years, Reul said the two sides might resume discusssions from the point they reached in May, when Blackwell asked the city to put together a severance agreement.
Blackwell never signed the deal. The two sides agreed that if Blackwell resigned he would get a full year's salary, a $5,000 lump sum payment and paid health insurance coverage for a year or until he finds a new job.
Now that he's been fired, though, Blackwell will get only accrued and unused vacation pay plus health coverage through the end of the month, a city spokesperson said.
"There's probably a good rationale for both sides sitting down and talking and trying to reach a resolution," Reul said. "When you're trying to establish a 'for cause' termination, which the city has to do, that is a fact-intensive inquiry … so there's the potential of this to drag on for a long period of time."