Police chief, mayor defend Rist firing

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A fired Ironton Police officer has another hurdle to cross before she gets her job back. Meanwhile, city officials are speaking out about why they did what they did and how they arrived at the decision to terminate Beth Rist based on the bogus traffic ticket.

Arbitrator Harry Graham ruled late last week that Rist was unfairly terminated by Mayor Rich Blankenship and should be restored to her job. Graham said his ruling was effective immediately upon receipt of the decision.

“It’s his decision and we have to abide by that ruling,” Blankenship said of Graham’s decision.

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However, Blankenship said city officials are looking into the terms of Rist’s probation before deciding how and when she may return.

Rist pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of falsification earlier this year and visiting Judge Fred Crow placed her on two years probation. Typically, people on probation are not allowed to carry guns and frequently have curfews that require them to be at home after a certain time each night.

City officials want to know if any terms of her probation will affect her work.

Rist was fired late last year after writing a bogus traffic ticket. She was indicted on felony charges in connection with that incident but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. She filed a grievance, claiming she had been treated unfairly.

While Rist and her attorney, Warren Morford, have been very vocal about their position on the matter, city officials have been silent when asked about the Rist case.

Blankenship said he and Carey were advised by union counsel to wait until the criminal and union issues were resolved before talking — and now that these issues have been resolved, they are willing to answer questions that have arisen over the last several months.

“We have followed correct procedure and have handled this in a proper manner to uphold the integrity of the police department,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship pointed out the arbitrator does state that Rist’s bogus ticket was a serious offense.

Rist’s grievance against the city claimed she was the victim of disparate treatment — that other officers have been involved in incidents just as severe but they were not fired.

One instance cited was that of an officer who allegedly engaged in amorous conduct with a woman in an office at a local Speedway convenience store.

According to Rist’s allegation, the officer was not disciplined. Carey said the officer in the Speedway incident did get a written reprimand, the most severe punishment he is able to administer as police chief.

Suspensions and terminations are the prerogative of Mayor Blankenship.

Carey said he did not get the chance to administer any discipline in the Richard Fouts case, the officer who last year dragged a man several blocks under his cruiser before the man’s body was discovered.

Fouts resigned before the investigation into the death was completed, making discipline moot.

The same was true of an officer who was charged with drunken driving while on probation as a new hire.

Carey said the officer immediately resigned from the department after he was charged, again making discipline a moot point.

“How do you discipline someone who’s already resigned?” Carey asked, adding that if the officer had not resigned, he would have been fired.

The officer was rehired three years later, but had had no infractions since that DUI, had gone through proper channels to be hired and was one of the top three recruits certified by the Civil Service Commission, a procedure Carey does not control.

“Here is someone who made a mistake and I look at it from this point (when they made a mistake) to the time they are hired and what have they done in between then?” Carey explained.

Carey also pointed out that he has had three officers who have had DUI’s prior to being hired as a police officer and one of them was Rist.

Carey also took issue with using a 2007 standoff at the police station as an example of disparate treatment.

He said the officer, Brian Pauley, had taken the man to the police station and had cited him to court.

He was ready to release Joseph Krantz when the Kentucky man grabbed Pauley’s gun.

Carey said Krantz attacked Pauley and was able to overpower him, something that could have happened to any officer and is not uncommon in law enforcement.

“If the arbitrator is using that as an example, I disagree,” Carey said.

As for allegations that Carey was looking for a reason to fire Rist, Carey said this was not true.

He said he had heard rumors about the bogus ticket for weeks before the investigation was begun but first assumed that because no one had actually filed a complaint, the rumor may have had no merit.

But once Jamie Sparks told one of the police captains about the incident and then came to his office in person to complain, the investigation was initiated.

“When somebody makes a complaint we’re under an obligation to investigate it,” Carey said.

Carey said Rist has been an officer 13 years, he for more than 20.

Never once until now has there been any allegations made against him by her. Carey said there have been times when he has gone out of his way for her.

He said a few years ago when the city got new cruisers, she got the first one.

And Carey said there was one time when he came out on his own in the middle of the night to administer her physical fitness test because she could not take the test during the day with other officers.