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Police Merit Commission may discipline former assistant chief

April 12, 2013

A former assistant police chief of the City of Greenwood who was demoted to lieutenant may be disciplined by the city’s Police Merit Commission, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The officer argued that based on ordinances and codes, only the mayor could discipline police chiefs or assistant chiefs.

David R. Mertz was assistant police chief of the Greenwood Police Department when he was lead investigator on a case looking into alleged misconduct by Officer Nicholas Dine. The mayor, who has the authority to appoint the police chief and assistant chief, terminated the police chief and demoted Mertz to the rank of lieutenant, which he held prior to serving as assistant chief.

A review board looked into Mertz’s conduct related to the investigation of the officer and the police chief filed three disciplinary charges against Mertz with the commission. Mertz argued the commission couldn’t pursue disciplinary charges because the conduct that the charges were based on happened when he was assistant police chief. Greenwood ordinance and municipal code say the commission may take disciplinary action against any officer except the chief or assistant chief. 

The commission ordered Mertz suspended without pay for 10 days after finding he committed actions to delay or manipulate the disciplinary proceedings against Dine.

The trial court denied Mertz’s petition for review, finding that once he was removed as assistant chief, the commission had the authority to consider disciplinary action against him.

In David R. Mertz v. City of Greenwood, Indiana, 41A01-1206-MI-286, the appellate judges held that while the police chief and assistant chief serve at the pleasure of the mayor, they remain police officers subject to the same professional standards as other officers.

“And, at the time of his disciplinary proceedings, Mertz was neither a chief nor assistant chief of police, and the Commission applied the statute, ordinances, and department rules and regulations that were in effect at the time of his conduct. Mertz proposes that we interpret the municipal code and ordinance to prohibit any discipline by the Commission for misconduct by a chief or assistant chief of police. But such an interpretation is untenable because it would undermine the entire command structure,” Judge Edward Najam wrote.

The judges also pointed out that the language in the code says the exception is for “the chief or assistant chief of police,” and makes no mention of former chiefs or assistant chiefs.

“Thus, we hold that the exception is not absolute but suspends the Commission’s authority to discipline an officer while he holds the appointment as chief or assistant chief. Once the mayor has terminated the appointment or the appointment otherwise ends, the purpose of the exception no longer exists, and the exception no longer applies,” he wrote.

 

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