Gibson removed as Chesapeake police chief
CHESAPEAKE — The Chesapeake village council voted Tuesday night to remove police chief Dennis Gibson from office.
The 4-1 decision to remove the chief, with one member abstaining, came at the end of a nearly four-hour special meeting of council, in which Mayor Tommy Templeton presented his charges in an administrative hearing and both sides called witnesses to testify.
Templeton and village solicitor Casey Baker stressed that it was not a criminal hearing.
Gibson had been asked by the mayor on March 29 to resign, which he refused.
“Unfortunately, we have come to this point at this time,” Templeton said, opening the hearing, before reading the charges.
Templeton said Gibson was charged with dishonesty in office, malfeasance in office, insubordination and neglect of duty.
Templeton said the dishonesty and malfeasance charges stemmed from the investigation into the June 20, 2015, overdose death of 17-year-old Joshua Blake. He said Gibson failed to file a police report on the case, following numerous requests.
On the insubordination charge, Templeton said Gibson has failed “to maintain a friendly, courteous attitude” in his duties and had allegedly been recorded threatening patrolman Aaron Christian, telling him “When I terminate you, I’ll end your career.”
On the neglect charge, Templeton said Gibson allegedly failed to provide proper instructions to officers under his command.
Templeton said he met with Gibson on Jan. 23, shortly after taking office as mayor, and set forth his expectations for the chief, which included maintaining a courteous attitude toward officers, working all hours scheduled and executing a strategy for collecting fines.
Baker represented the village in making its case, before calling Templeton as the first witness.
“This is the first time the village has had to go through an administrative hearing like this,” Baker noted as he began.
Templeton ceded control of the meeting to council member Paul Hart, who serves as mayor pro tempore, while he testified.
He said that the meeting he called with Gibson was typical of what a new CEO would do upon taking office, and that he outlined his concerns about the police department as new mayor.
“Basically, it’s in shambles,” he said. “We can’t keep police officers. There’s no structure or leadership.”
Templeton said, over the past two years, the village had gone from about six officers to the current number of only two.
He allegedly Gibson had harassed officers, cursed at them, demeaned them and had not worked his scheduled shift.
He said that Gibson had “wholeheartedly” accepted the expectations laid out, but that he felt the chief had not lived up to those expectations following the meeting.
Templeton said Gibson had not been doing his duty in writing tickets, stating that Christian had written far more than Gibson. He also stated that he felt Gibson had not satisfied his expectations in dealing with the village’s drug problem or in collecting past due fines.
Templeton said he was asked by Blake’s grandfather at an extended meeting of council on Jan. 11 about the investigation into his death. He said he checked with the Lawrence County prosecutor and that no report had been turned in.
He said Gibson told him the report had been filed, but he would make copies and send it again.
“That will make twice I’ve turned it in,” Templeton said Gibson told him.
Templeton said he texted Gibson on Feb. 12 and asked for an “acceptable report” on Blake’s death, and received a reply of “OK.”
Templeton said he finally received a copy of the report on Feb. 14, after being informed by a council member that Gibson had found the original report.
“At this point, how many different stories had Gibson told you about what happened with the report,” Baker asked Templeton.
“Four,” Templeton replied, stating he was unable to confirm the truth of any of them.
Templeton was then cross-examined by attorney Warren Morford, who represented Gibson.
Morford asked Templeton if he had given Gibson a timeline on the expectations he had laid out in the Jan. 23 meeting.
“I told him ‘If it didn’t happen fast, I would pull the trigger,’” Templeton said. “Those may not have been my exact words, but the urgency was there.”
Morford pointed out that a report on Blake’s death had been faxed to the Lawrence County Children’s Services Division on June 18, 2015.
Morford asked Templeton if any of the officers allegedly harassed had filed complaints with him.
“Not written, but verbal,” Templeton said.
Morford then asked Templeton if he had witnessed the harassment.
“Not first-hand,” he said.
“Do you feel it’s fair to discipline officers for something you have no knowledge of?” Morford asked.
Templeton pointed out the allegedly recording of Gibson that Christian had presented him with.
Morford asked Templeton about Gibson’s disciplinary record with previous mayors, asking if “as far as you know, is Chief Gibson’s disciplinary record spotless?”
“Yes,” Templeton replied.
Following Templeton’s testimony, the village called Christian to the stand.
Christian, who has served as a patrolman for seven months, was asked how he liked his job.
“I love this community,” he said. “The people are easy going.”
He was then asked if there was anything he disliked about his job.
“I don’t like working for my superior,” he said, stating that Gibson had created a “hostile work environment.”
Christian stated that Gibson had cursed at him on multiple occasions, called him “worthless” and told him he was “the worst police officer.”
Christian said he had not received proper, on-the-job training from Gibson.
“My first day, he threw me the keys and told me to go,” Christian said. “I hardly knew any streets.”
Christian then recounted several incidents in which he said he had been demeaned by Gibson, and the recording of the Jan. 25 conversation he had with the chief was played for the council, in which Gibson could allegedly be heard saying he would “end your career.”
Christian said it followed being written up by Gibson for being on Facebook while on duty.
As a result of the alleged incidents with Gibson, Christian said he said he could no longer work with the chief and that if Gibson remained in his position, he did not intend to remain an officer.
On cross-examination, Morford asked Christian why he resigned from the Coal Grove Police Department prior to being hired by Chesapeake.
“I did doughnuts on a parking lot,” Christian replied.
Morford then asked Christian about being written up on for being on Facebook, to which the officer replied that he was on lunch at the time.
“You were on village time, sir,” Morford said.
Following Christian’s testimony, the village rested its case. Morford then called Lukas Morris, an officer of four years, to the stand.
Morris testified that he had seen no disciplinary problems with Gibson and had not heard him curse at officers.
When asked if he thought Christian had an attitude toward Gibson, Morris replied, “I can’t speak to that. I do my job. I go home.”
Following Morris’ testimony, Morford called Gibson to the stand.
Gibson stated that he had worked for the village since 1979, when he started as a patrolman, alternating between part- and full-time work until 1984, when he became full-time. He said he was appointed chief by Mayor Dick Gilpin, under whom he had no disciplinary issues. He said he had no previous disciplinary issues with the village.
“I have a perfect work history,” he said.
On the issue of the Blake report, Gibson stated that it had been faxed to the Children’s Services Division.
He said the delay in producing the report for Templeton came from the report being mistakenly filed in an adult file, rather than a juvenile file.
“The mayor assumed I went and made them up,” Gibson said of the report surfacing. “I didn’t have time to make them up.”
Gibson denied misleading Templeton on the report and denied the claim that he had told “four different stories” regarding it.
He said the Blake case is still an open investigation, as far as he is concerned.
On the issue with Christian, Gibson said that he had the patrolman in his office “several times.”
Gibson said he told Christian he “was going to screw up and lose his job.”
Regarding the recording of his conversation with Christian, said he made the remarks because, “For some of the things he was doing, it gives law enforcement officers a black eye.”
Gibson stated he felt Christian was “a big liability” for the police force.
Gibson said he felt he was he was a victim of a vendetta by Templeton, and had not been given a timeline for meeting expectations. He said he felt he had done his job and had had no problems with previous mayors.
“If I did anything wrong, I would resign,” he said.
Following Gibson’s testimony Templeton asked the council to accept the charges as filed and remove Gibson from office.
Council member Paul Hart put forward the motion, stating he felt Gibson’s additional job at the Lawrence County Adult Probation Department created excessive hours for him and had created “turmoil.”
“We need to make a move for the village to get it moving,” Hart said.
The council then voted with four in favor of removing Gibson, meeting the two-thirds vote required. Council member Richard Stover voted “no,” while Kenny Wolfe abstained.
“That concludes our business here. We’ll see you in court,” Morford said immediately after the vote was made.
Hart and Gibson exchanged heated words as Gibson left the room.
“I believe they made the wrong decision,” Morford said following the meeting. “I believe the charges are based on hearsay. We will make an appeal to the court of common pleas.”
Morford said Gibson felt he was justified in making the remarks heard on the recording.
“He believed he had reasonable grounds to make the comments on conduct unbecoming of an officer,” he said.
He said Gibson had never been the subject of disciplinary complaints in the past and that the allegations Templeton had made regarding the Blake report were “entirely false,” pointing out that it had been faxed to children’s services.
Templeton then spoke to the media inside the village hall.
“I’m very distraught right now,” he said. “I didn’t want to carry it this far.”
Templeton said the situation with the Blake report was “the main issue.”
On Gibson’s replacement, the mayor said an interim chief would be named, and then the village would start looking for a permanent replacement.
He said it was too soon to have a timetable.
“It’s all up in the air,” he said. “As quickly as possible,” he said.
Gibson has 10 days to file an appeal.