A longtime Bartholomew County merit deputy disciplined after he “playfully shot a fellow officer in the groin with non-lethal training ammunition” was not fired for cause, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in affirming an administrative law judge’s determination the deputy was entitled to unemployment benefits.
Robert L. Amos was a merit deputy for nearly 40 years until May 2013, when the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Merit Board found Amos violated six department rules after the incident following a training exercise.
During debriefing, when participants had removed some of their protective gear, Hartsville Town Marshall A.J. Ross said he had not been hit with the non-lethal Simunition plastic bullets during the exercise, according to the record.
Amos laughed and said he had been hit four times during a “live fire” scenario exercise. “He then raised his weapon and playfully shot Marshal Ross, hitting him in his groin protector,” according to the Court of Appeals order in Bartholomew County, Indiana v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and Robert L. Amos, 93A02-1311-EX-986. Ross wasn’t injured, but an instructor immediately took Amos’ weapon and admonished him.
The merit board found Amos’ rules violations constituted cause for termination and immediately discharged him from the department. Initially found ineligible for unemployment benefits, Amos appealed and testified before an administrative law judge that the rules were applied unevenly. He “testified to several instances of other officers playfully shooting fellow employees with (Simunition) without being disciplined,” and the administrative law judge reversed, finding the county didn’t uniformly enforce its rules for “just cause” discharge.
The county failed to prove otherwise to the Court of Appeals. The county argued that because Amos was a certified firearms instructor, the proper comparative class is firearms instructors who engaged in Simunition horseplay. “This claim has no merit,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the panel. “Not one of the six rules Amos violated differentiates between officers who are certified firearms instructors and those who are not.”
The county also lost its arguments that the merit board’s ruling collaterally estopped Amos from claiming he wasn’t discharged for just cause and that the Department of Workforce Development Review Board abused its discretion by denying the merit board transcript as additional evidence.
“The county claimed the transcript called into question Amos’s testimony at the ALJ hearing that other officers had playfully shot fellow employees with (Simunition) without being disciplined. The County, however, did not offer an explanation as to why it did not present the transcript as evidence at the ALJ hearing.”