Appeals court upholds removal of Gary reserve officer

A Gary reserve officer suspended but later reinstated must now remain off the force after the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed that the Gary Police Department presented evidence of the reserve officer’s “repeated and blatant noncompliance” with orders.

Former Indiana Chief Justice and now Senior Judge Randall Shepard wrote for the unanimous appellate panel that upheld Reserve Officer Lamarquist Pritchett’s removal from the Gary Police Department in a Monday opinion, Gary Police Civil Service Commission v. City of Gary, 18A-MI-540.

Pritchett was removed as a reserve officer after a 2016 double homicide investigation led a K-9 officer to his door. Pritchett didn’t answer when investigators knocked, later saying he was behind on child support and thought police were there to serve a warrant on him.

Pritchett then failed to appear for multiple subsequent meetings with Sgt. Justin Illyes, an internal affairs officer assigned to investigate Pritchett’s failure to cooperate with the murder investigation. Pritchett’s police powers were eventually suspended, and the police department asked the Gary Police Civil Service Commission to terminate his appointment as a reserve officer.

But the commission adopted its attorney’s determination that GPD “failed to submit a prima facie case which would substantiate that Officer Pritchett violated the rules as set out in the code of conduct for Reserve Officers” and, thus, reinstated Pritchett. The commission made its decision despite Pritchett not presenting any evidence.  

The Lake Circuit Court, however, granted judicial review and reversed the reinstatement, noting the commission erred by failing to issue findings and conclusions. Further, the trial court found that “a review of the facts in [the] record would not support the Commission’s determination.”  

The Court of Appeals likewise upheld the reversal of Pritchett’s reinstatement, with Shepard writing that “Pritchett’s repeated and blatant noncompliance with GPD rules governing reserve officers was clearly established by uncontradicted evidence.” Thus, the trial court did not err in declining to defer to the commission.

Further, “based upon the evidence presented it is difficult to understand how the Commission could have concluded that the City had failed to present a prima facie case that Pritchett had violated the reserve officers’ code of conduct,” Shepard said.

“Pritchett admitted to a detective that he had failed to answer his door on the night of October 21, 2016, even though he knew other officers were outside,” the senior judge wrote. “He offered unconvincing excuses, such as that he feared the officers had arrived (in the middle of the night, with a K-9 unit) to serve a warrant for unpaid child support. Pritchett’s refusal to cooperate delayed two officers and a homicide detective from pursuing other avenues of investigation for a double homicide case.

“Further, after the GPD’s internal affairs division opened an investigation, Pritchett continued to fail to cooperate,” Shepard continued. “Sergeant Illyes repeatedly ordered Pritchett to appear for an interview, but Pritchett took steps to avoid questioning.”

“At a minimum,” Shepard concluded, “this undisputed evidence, much of which resulted from Pritchett’s own statements to his fellow officers, demonstrates neglect or disobedience of orders, conduct injurious to the public peace or welfare, and conduct unbecoming a police officer, as alleged by the City in its Amended Verified Complaint.”  

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