Firing of Centerville police sergeant headed to arbitration

Centerville officials have released more details regarding the firing of veteran police Sgt. James Myers, whose employment was terminated on March 16 for allegedly committing eight violations involving the police department’s rules of conduct and five violations of the city’s personnel manual.

Myers and the union representing him, are mounting a defense against the termination.

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The city says James Myers was the subject of an internal investigation when he intentionally withheld information from an internal police investigator.

City Manager Wayne Davis alleges that Myers also used his position to inappropriately access documents he thought would help his case in a pending five-day suspension.

“The public must be able to trust a police officer. That is an essential function of the position. At the point he was fired, Myers had lied several times and broken several rules. I would not be doing my job as city manager if I allowed him to continue working for the city of Centerville,” Davis told the Dayton Daily News.

Davis added that Myers’ five-day suspension stems from more than a year before, when he wrote a letter disparaging the city in support of a city employee who was terminated in February 2019.

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The city terminated that public works employee after Davis revealed that an investigation determined the employee’s behavior included inappropriate touching as well as racist, sexist and homophobic language and behavior over an extended period of time.

“The public works employee’s conduct was reprehensible and will never be tolerated,” Davis said. “This is ultimately an issue of work culture and human decency. I hope the message is clear: intolerant and inappropriate behavior will not be permitted at the city of Centerville. City Council and staff have been steadfast in their determination to improve our work culture, and we will not allow this type of behavior in our work environment.”

Personnel records obtained by the Dayton Daily News show Sgt. Myers received several warnings about honoring the chain of command and understanding his place in the organization in performance evaluations dating back to 1995.

Centerville Police Chief Matt Brown says he had a conversation with Myers in January 2018 where Brown specifically warned Myers not to get involved in disciplinary matters of other employees.

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“Sgt. Myers received directives that told him his behavior was not permissible conduct and that he was not to get involved in personnel matters that did not involve him,” Brown said.

Brown noted that despite this directive, Myers wrote a letter on behalf of the Public Works employee in which he denigrated the city staff and criticized the decisions of city leadership.

The Dayton Daily News received a copy of that letter through a public records request, in which Myers referred to the inappropriate language as “shop or locker room talk” and wrote, “It seems to me a demotion, suspension and/or training would have corrected his alleged misconduct.” Despite Myers’ acknowledgment that he was not part of the process, he went on to write in the letter that the city’s actions were “ill-advised.”

Davis says the investigation showed the Public Works employee’s behavior was unacceptable in any workforce and does not come close to the high expectations of conduct by Centerville employees.

“While I am surely not proud of the behavior exhibited by the city’s former public works employee, I am proud of our resolve in taking decisive, impartial action,” Davis said.

Davis suspended Myers for five days after an investigation into the letter. Myers’ appeal of his suspension with the Centerville Personnel Appeals Board is pending. Attorneys for Myers and the city submitted briefs in early April to board members, who will likely make a decision in May.

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“The decision to suspend Myers for five days was not arrived at lightly. We have an outstanding police department full of employees of the highest integrity. There is no place in our department for an employee who does not represent these qualities or who supports others who do not represent them. I strongly considered termination instead of the suspension,” Davis said.

Following the investigation and suspension, city leadership says it learned Myers secretly recorded an August 2018 meeting between Myers, Brown and Davis.

At the time, the recording did not violate any law or police department rules; however, the city says Myers did not disclose the recording during the subsequent investigation. The disclosure was required under department policy.

“Myers intentionally withheld the highly-relevant recording and then lied about it on multiple occasions, despite the fact that the recording contained answers to questions Myers was being asked. These were questions that, when asked specifically, he could not recall, yet he had a complete tape recording of the meeting,” Brown said.

Myers has maintained he did not disclose the recording at the recommendation of his attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein, who said on Thursday that his client is waiting on a decision from the city’s Appeals Board, that is currently reviewing the situation.

“We’re waiting on an arbitration on the grievance, and a decision from the Personnel Appeals Board on the appeal,” he said.

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For Myers and his wife Liz, they believe that their side is well represented by the comments that have been generated by a Facebook page that has been created that was designed to “let the citizens of Centerville know that there is a significant background related to Sgt. Myers’ termination on March 16, 2020.”

Myers said he’s confident that the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (OPBA), which has a signed collective bargaining agreement with the city that went into effect at the beginning of this year, will clear his name and get his job back.

“There is a significant back story to this case that is not favorable to the city and it is not as the city is making it seem,” Myers said.

Joe Hegedus spokesman for the OPBA, told the Dayton Daily News that the organization strongly disagrees with the city’s position in the matter, feels that the position is unsubstantiated in all factual documents and actions in the matter.

“The process will show that Sgt. Myers is well-respected, had been recommend by the police chief to attend training at the FBI Academy,” Hegedus said. “This is what the process is here for and I believe that it will work for Sgt. Myers because he did not deserve to be terminated.”

Myers’ termination is set for arbitration on August 19, with a time and venue yet to be determined due to the coronavirus pandemic according to Hegedus.

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