The procedure for determining the status of a suspended police officer isn’t exactly the same as someone accused of a crime, but we think the principle enshrined the Sixth Amendment – the right to a fair and speedy trial – should apply. Both for the sake of the officers in question, and the public they serve.
In the cases of two suspended Racine police officers, neither the officer nor the public have received a speedy trial.
But the public of the City of Racine has paid Brinelle Nabors and Terrence Jones more than $304,000 during their combined suspensions, which have totaled more than 1,750 days.
Nabors hasn’t worked since December 2015, after he allegedly punched and injured a 14-year-old Park High School student a month prior. He has been charged with felony misconduct in public office and use of excessive force — and has a jury trial scheduled for January. That trial had once been scheduled for August 2018, according to online court records, but was delayed multiple times.
A payroll report shows that Sgt. Terrence “Terry” Jones hasn’t worked since Nov. 13, 2016 and has been on leave since Jan. 3, 2017. From Jan. 3, 2017 through Oct. 19, 2018, Jones received three raises while not working a single day for the Racine Police Department. Neither the Police Department nor the City Attorney’s Office divulged why Jones is suspended. He has not been charged with a crime in the State of Wisconsin.
There is no limit on the maximum length of paid suspensions in Wisconsin. State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he is hoping to pass legislation in 2019 that will prevent suspensions of this length.
“We need a timeline,” he said. “This isn’t about punishing an officer. This is about moving the process along.”
In February, the state Assembly approved a bill that would enforce a timeline for police and fire commissions to hold hearings that would decide the fate of officers placed on leave. However, that bill would only apply to the Milwaukee Police Department, the state’s largest police force, if it passes.
The bill never made it to a vote in the Senate, and Wanggaard hopes it can be “tweaked” to make it apply to more than just Milwaukee police.
Wanggaard is hopeful that Governor-elect Tony Evers, who is a Democrat, would be willing to reach across the aisle to help get this bill passed.
“We want to make sure we have confidence in our law enforcement,” Wanggaard said.
If the bill were to pass — and if it was changed to apply to police departments smaller than Milwaukee’s — police and fire commissions would have a maximum of 150 days to reinstate or fire a suspended police officer. A PFC’s decision could be appealed in court, but the officer’s wages would be halted upon appeal if the PFC decided to fire them.
Wanggaard blames PFCs and police leaders for “dragging their feet” when they allow cases like those of Jones and Nabors to take so long.
He said that PFCs, departments and the courts will sometimes wait for another entity to act on a suspended officer. This brings disciplinary and fact-finding proceedings to a standstill while each entity waits for the other to do something, Wanggaard said.
Creating a set timeline for when charges have to be filed or dropped against an officer accused of misconduct could actually help law enforcement, Wanggaard said.
“When you don’t have real clear guidelines, this makes it more subjective and more difficult for the people in charge,” he said. “(A timeline) holds people’s feet to the fire.”
We think that’s an excellent idea, Senator.
Such cases should be resolved quickly. The cases of Nabors and Jones are just two examples of the need for a legislative mechanism to ensure that those entrusted with determining an officer’s fate will move swiftly.
There’s another aspect of a lengthy suspension that Wanggaard, himself a former Racine police officer, pointed out.
“To be under that cloud for months or years, I can’t imagine the mental anguish that individual is going through, especially if they think they didn’t do anything wrong. This is also a mental health issue for the officer. They’re in limbo,” he said.
An officer should be able to learn quickly, after a fair trial, whether he or she is to be returned to active duty or removed from the police force.
Correspondingly, a municipality, county or state’s taxpayers shouldn’t be paying officers to not work for nearly three years.