Sergeant’s Demotion Upheld Due To Misconduct And Abrasive Management Style

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Apr 07, 2021

LCW Associate Sue Ann Renfro and Partner Jesse Maddox successfully represented a city in a peace officer’s disciplinary appeal.

In 2017, a police sergeant was the subject of a grievance that a subordinate officer filed. An independent investigation sustained findings that the sergeant was discourteous, used obscene language, made disparaging remarks, and falsified a report.  The chief of police then demoted the officer from the rank of sergeant to officer.

The officer appealed his demotion to the city’s three-member Commission, which found there was just cause for the demotion.  However, the Commission found the discipline was excessive and restored the officer to the position of corporal. The officer then filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate with the trial court to challenge the demotion to corporal. The trial court denied the writ petition, holding the weight of the evidence supported the Commission’s findings.

The trial court found that sufficient evidence, including testimony from multiple department members, showed that the officer was “seriously lacking” interpersonal skills and that his abrasive management style frustrated the agency’s efficiency and mission. The court found that evidence also showed that the officer regularly issued instructions and orders to subordinates in an “abrupt, rude and inappropriate manner” and at times in the presence of citizens or other officers. The court noted that the officer’s intimidating tactics as a supervisor resulted in the mishandling of an investigation. The officer was repeatedly advised to improve how he communicated with other officers; he even received a counseling session for berating another officer in front of others.

Based on these facts, the trial court held that there was no abuse of discretion in demoting the officer to corporal


The trial court indicated that the department could expect more from the former sergeant because of his supervisory responsibilities.  This fact, coupled with the counseling that the sergeant received, showed that his demotion to corporal was an appropriate penalty.

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