Attorneys to present written briefs in Rist case
Fired Ironton police officer Beth Rist will wait at least another 30 days before learning if her probation will be terminated, allowing her to go back to work as an officer, or if the city will be allowed to bypass an arbitrator’s ruling and keep her off the job permanently.
Visiting Judge Fred Crow Friday asked Rist’s attorney, Warren Morford, and the city’s attorney, Alan Lemons, to submit written arguments on both matters within 30 days. He indicated he will rule on the matters shortly thereafter.
Morford had asked Friday to have Rist’s two-year probation terminated, thus removing some previous objections to her returning to work.
People on probation are generally prohibited from carrying a gun, being in the company of felons and being out past curfew, all of which police officers routinely do in their line of work.
On Aug. 27, 2008, Rist pulled over a woman who had run a stop sign.
Dolly Newcomb, of Ironton, had no insurance, was driving under a suspension because she had no insurance and had expired vehicle tags.
Rist summoned Newcomb’s daughter, Jamie Sparks, and indicated she would give Sparks the citation to keep Newcomb from going to jail. Roughly a month later, Sparks went to court to answer the citation and was told because there was no insurance on that vehicle, she would lose her driver’s license as well.
One of the two women then reportedly called the police department and complained.
Rist was fired and then indicted on felony charges in connection with the incident.
She later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of falsification and placed on two years probation.
She filed a grievance against the city to get her job back but was first denied by Mayor Rich Blankenship. However, arbitrator Harry Graham ruled Rist was the victim of disparate treatment and ruled she must be given her job back. The city has filed a motion to overturn that ruling.
During court proceedings Friday, Morford argued Rist has been a model probationer and has abided by all the terms of her probation since she pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor count of falsification in February.
He argued the city has used her probation to keep Rist off the job and to violate the arbitrator’s ruling.
“I ask for a determination that she has served long enough on probation. She’s had her life turned upside down. She didn’t profit from this personally and she has expressed remorse,” Morford said. “We ask that she be allowed to go back to the job she loves.”
But Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr., contended that Rist has been on probation less than a year and less than half of the time to which she was sentenced.
He pointed out Rist was originally charged with a felony that was reduced to a misdemeanor.
He rejected any claims that she has been treated unfairly for what she had done.
“The court is well aware of her transgressions and misconduct,” Collier said.
Lemons asked Crow to overturn arbitrator Harry Graham’s ruling from this summer that gave Rist’s job back to her.
Lemons argued, among other things, Graham exceeded his power when he took into consideration Rist’s length of service and her personnel record in his decision because it was not a part of her union contract.
“He went outside the contract and applied mitigating factors,” Lemons argued.
Lemons argued the union contract with the city does give the mayor the power to fire an employee for misconduct such as lying under oath and committing even misdemeanor crimes, both of which Rist did when she falsified a traffic ticket and then pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge associated with it.
Lemons said other courts have overturned arbitrator’s rulings on these grounds and cited a case in which a Cincinnati officer was first fired for admitting he lied under oath during a criminal trial.
The officer was given his job back by an arbitrator and then removed from his job by Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The lower court’s ruling was upheld by a court of appeals ruling that stated
“…It is also common sense and an inherent expectation that law enforcement officers taking an oath to uphold laws and serve the community must not lie. Honesty and service to the community are expectations of all law enforcement officers. A violation of that trust impairs an officer’s ability to perform the duties of his or her job.”
But Morford countered that if Crow throws out the arbitration award in Rist’s favor, “you might as well throw out all the arbitration decisions. They can’t come back in here when you don’t like the result and ask you to set it aside.”
Morford also argued the Cincinnati case is nothing like Rist’s.
“We’re talking about a traffic citation here, for Pete’s sake,” Morford said.
Meanwhile, Rist has gotten a job as a police officer, though not with the city of Ironton. About a month ago, Rist was hired on as an auxiliary officer for the village of Chesapeake. She will not be paid and will be treated as if she were a cadet in training
The reason for the hiring was to enable the officer to maintain her certification, which she would lose if she were not associated with a police agency.
“Right now, she can’t do much more than being a ride-along,” Mayor Dick Gilpin said. “We will treat her basically like someone in training. In that capacity she can’t do any arresting.”
Rist came to the village council to ask that she sign on to their force. The council voted 4 to 2 in her favor. Councilmen Paul E. Hart and Paul N. Hart did not support the majority’s decision.
“I understand she is a good officer,” Gilpin said. “I have seen her record. She made a mistake and paid for it by being reprimanded and being put on probation. … Any department would be proud to have her under any other circumstance.
“If this one ticket caused disciplinary action, she faced that. A lot of people in Ironton must think a lot of her. They voted her in as a councilman.”