Appeal hearing begins for ousted Denham Springs police chief

Appeal hearing begins for ousted Denham Springs police chief

DENHAM SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - Day one of an appeal hearing for the ousted Denham Springs police chief ran late into the evening Tuesday, with two witnesses called during three hours of testimony.

Scott Jones, represented by attorney Ben Chapman, is hoping to appeal his termination by the Denham Springs City Council. The city's Civil Service Board will rule on the appeal.

Much of the hearing dealt with reviewing a domestic violence case involving City Councilman Chris Davis.

Davis, 40, was arrested and booked on February 11, after he was accused of domestic abuse that happened on January 15. He was booked into the Livingston Parish Jail. He posted a $1,500 bond and was released.

However, Davis was not arrested the night of the incident. Rather, he was issued a citation, which led some to question whether this was a violation of protocol. He was later arrested after the district attorney issued a warrant.

The handling of that case led to an investigation into Jones and his second-in-command at the time, former captain Steve Kistler.

In the report that followed, the investigation found Jones failed to follow a direct order from the mayor telling him to do everything strictly by the book. The city council later fired both officers.

Davis and his wife have since said the incident was an accident.

The appeal hearing began with Chapman filing two different motions to dismiss the investigation and the city council's decision, claiming the investigation violated officer rights and that the findings lacked specificity. Those motions were denied.

The first witness called was Capt. Shannon Womack, the acting interim chief. Womack was questioned extensively on department policy for domestic abuse cases and his involvement in the Davis case. He was also asked to compare the Davis case to 15 other domestic violence cases.

When asked if he was bothered that Davis was given a summons instead of being arrested, Womack replied that he was.

"Certainly, we hadn't done everything we needed to do to protect somebody," said Womack.

Womack also denied that he benefited from the firing of Jones, or that he hoped for the firing in order to advance his own position.

The second witness was Officer Wesley Clarkson, who was the responding officer the night of Davis' alleged altercation with his wife. Much of Clarkson's testimony on the facts of the case was done in executive session because there is pending legal action in Davis' case.

According to Civil Service Board Chair Jennifer Barclay, the burden of proof during the appeal process lies with the city. Stephanie Hulett, the city's attorney, must prove that the city's investigation and subsequent firing of Jones was justified.

"If the law says an arrest should be made, then even Chief Jones will have to make an arrest. But he didn't," said Hulett in her opening statements.

Meanwhile, Jones and his attorney will attempt to show that Jones did not deserve to be fired.

"At the end of the day, a veteran with nearly 40 years of experience was tossed out the door for something he didn't do, for something he wasn't involved in, because the mayor wants a different chief," Chapman said to the board.

If the Civil Service Board overturns the city's decision, the case will go back to the city council for review. Barclay said the responsibility weighs heavily on the board.

"We're talking about two people who were gainfully employed. We are talking about what is best for the citizens of Denham Springs. We're talking about whether or not the city can sure up their proof that making this termination was the right thing to do," she said.

A total of 24 witnesses are expected to called in all. The hearing will resume Wednesday evening. It is expected to last several days.

Kistler's appeal hearing is scheduled for June.

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