City files appeal in Rist case

Published 9:50 am Friday, September 11, 2009

The City of Ironton has formally filed an appeal of an arbitrator’s decision in favor of a fired police officer.

The appeal was filed Friday in the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court in the matter of Beth Rist, who was terminated late last year after writing a bogus traffic ticket. Rist’s attorney said he will withhold comment on the appeal until he has had time to study it.

Mayor Rich Blankenship said the appeal is not meant to disregard arbitrator Harry Graham’s decision, but the city’s stance is that Graham did not take into account every aspect of a complex case.

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In its appeal, the city contends Graham should not have considered Rist’s length of service and prior record as opposed to the fake traffic ticket she wrote.

City officials also contend in the appeal that other courts in similar circumstances have determined that an employee’s lying while in the performance of their duty is just grounds for termination.

The appeal also states that while the arbitrator determined Rist was the victim of “disparate treatment,” the cases mentioned by the arbitrator as grounds for his decision should not have been considered in his decision.

In his ruling Graham mentioned an officer who resigned after admitting he dragged the body of a person under his police cruiser and an officer who resigned after being arrested for drunken driving.

“When an officer resigns, I have no authority to discipline him,” Blankenship said. “In the Fouts case, we went a step further and had an investigation and took the case to the grand jury.”

The appeal also contends that Graham’s decision to return Rist to her job is contrary to public policy favoring honest law enforcement.

“Obviously we disagree with the arbitrator’s decision,” Blankenship said. “We don’t believe he considered how serious this case is now and for the future of Ironton.”

He said returning an officer to the streets to write tickets and patrol traffic after that officer had admitted to writing a fake ticket would open up that officer to future challenges about her truthfulness; it may even affect the way other officers are perceived in the performance of their duties.

Rist went to court last week and asked visiting Judge Fred Crow to end her probation so she could return to work. Crow postponed hearing the matter to allow the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office a chance to respond to the request filed late August by Rist’s attorney, Warren Morford.

Blankenship said he met with Rist July 13 and in that meeting she agreed not to return to work until her probation is modified or lifted.

Common stipulations for people on probation is that they have no firearms in their possession, abide by a curfew set by the probation agency and that they do not have any contact with people who have been arrested for or convicted of crimes.

“If I bring her back in full uniform and duties, she would be in violation of her probation and her probation officer could file a violation against her,” Blankenship said. “That’s entrapment. I wouldn’t do that to anybody.”

Morford said he glanced at the appeal when it was filed last week but had not had time to truly study it and would wait until he had a chance to review it before making any comments about its merits, but classified the appeal on its surface as “more stall tactics.”

Rist was fired late last year for writing a bogus traffic ticket. She filed a grievance against the city and took her case to arbitration. Graham sided with Rist in her grievance.

The former police officer was indicted on a felony charge in connection with the incident but later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was placed on two years probation.