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BADGE RETURNED: Fired officer to get job back

Beth Rist, the Ironton Police officer who was fired for falsifying a traffic ticket, was treated unfairly compared to other officers and will get her job back, an arbitrator has ruled.

In his decision dated July 9, arbitrator Harry Graham ruled that Rist had been the victim of disparate treatment when she was fired last year by Mayor Rich Blankenship after admitting she wrote a citation to the daughter of a woman she had stopped for a traffic violation.

Rist said she is glad her ordeal is over but is humbled by the outpouring of loyalty shown her by numerous people in the community, her friends and family.

“The kindness and support have been overwhelming,” she said. She thanked her attorney, Warren Morford.

“He knew I didn’t have any money and was fighting the city but he didn’t care. I respect him for it,” she said.

Graham ruled that the city “had no just cause to discharge” Rist and that she must be “restored to employment immediately effective upon receipt of this decision,” Morford said.

In his ruling, Graham specifically mentioned four instances in which other officers’ behavior was at least questionable but did not earn comparable disciplinary action.

Citing testimony made in Rist’s defense, Graham outlined a situation where a male police officer who “engaged in amorous conduct with a female at a local Speedway and it was recorded on video and sent to the corporate office.” The video was later sent to city officials but no serious action was taken against the officer, who was not identified in the Graham decision. The officer was never comparably disciplined, nor was another officer who was arrested for intoxicated driving while employed during a probationary period.

Graham noted in his ruling that, from Rist’s defense testimony, this officer was allowed to resign and then was rehired even though he had been convicted of the offense in the interim.

Graham also mentioned Patrolman Brian Pauley, whose prisoner, Joseph Krantz, wrangled away from him, took Pauley’s firearm and created a standoff at the police department in May 2007, and ex-officer Richard Fouts, “who dragged a man to death under his cruiser,” in March 2008 neither of whom were ever punished.

Morford said he and Rist were elated by the decision.

“It’s very hard to fight city hall and rarely do you ever win,” he said. “But justice did prevail, fairness did prevail in this decision.”

Blankenship said neither he nor Police Chief Jim Carey had received a copy of the ruling and would decline comment until they had a chance to look at it.

Rist said she expects to return to work early next week.

As she reflected on her last few months, Rist said, “All I did was try and help somebody who was poor. I didn’t gain anything from it, didn’t hurt nobody.”

The Graham decision did not allow Rist back pay for the period of time she was unemployed. However, Morford said he would likely file a lawsuit on her behalf in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

This is the second time Rist has filed action against the city police department, alleging unfair treatment. The first time was in 2001. She won that lawsuit as well, receiving an undisclosed settlement.

In this instance, Rist was terminated by Blankenship in October 2008 after the incident in August 2008 during which Rist stopped a city resident, Dolly Newcomb, for running a stop sign. Rist determined Newcomb was driving without a license or insurance but allowed Newcomb’s daughter, Jamie Sparks, to come to the scene and take the ticket instead of Newcomb.

When Sparks went to court to answer the traffic citation, her license was revoked because the car in question was uninsured. Sparks then allegedly contacted Rist and then Chief Jim Carey to get her license restored.

The matter was investigated internally and by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Rist was indicted by a Lawrence County grand jury on a felony charge of tampering with evidence but later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of falsification and placed on probation.

Rist filed the grievance in October 2008 and the case was heard in arbitration in May 2009.