Oliver quit before EEOC notice

Friday, August 7, 2009

A violation of work place etiquette has led to a Lewisburg police detective sergeant's resignation, and it appears to be part of a detective's complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Det. Sgt. James E. "Jimmy" Oliver, 42, resigned from his position at the Lewisburg Police Department on Monday. Oliver was employed by the department for a total of 11 years, having started in law enforcement with the Marshall County Sheriff's Department in February of 1992.

Oliver has confirmed what public records show - that he made a remark in passing to Detective Santiago Mcklean who took offense and complained. The chain of events escalated when City Councilman Robin Minor sought Oliver's removal, according to the former sergeant and information from other sources who spoke on a condition of anonymity. Other councilmen apparently agreed with Minor. That led to a discussion late last week between Oliver, the city manager and Police Chief Chuck Forbis.

"Robin Minor wanted me gone since all that came up with Santiago," Oliver said Wednesday night.

In March, Oliver wrote a memo to Forbis suggesting Mcklean needed more experience and that his Hispanic accent interfered with his work. Forbis planned to put Mcklean on street patrol so he'd get more experience. At first, Mcklean agreed, but then found Oliver's memo and complained to the Police Advisory Board where Minor defended Mcklean. Forbis has assigned Mcklean to training classes since then. During Police Advisory Board meetings, there was discussion on when there would be a review of Mcklean's progress. One period of time discussed was six months.

Since Oliver's resignation on Monday, Fuller received notification from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Mcklean filed a complaint on Monday. While the substance of Mcklean's complaint was not immediately known on Thursday, it would appear that it includes an incident between the two detectives approximately three and a half weeks ago.

Fuller provided the following explanation about what happened between Oliver and Mcklean.

Mcklean and a female interpreter were seated next to each other in the Marshall County Courthouse during open court in the jury box, a place where various court officers frequently wait for their cases to be called.

Oliver had to step carefully in front of Mcklean to get to another seat in the jury box. The situation might be compared to someone returning to a seat in a movie theater. There is only so much room for the person who is seated and the person who is walking.

As Oliver was stepping, apparently sideways, to his chair, he asked a question that seems to have been arising from the close quarters and the sergeant's size.

There are two versions of what Oliver said, according to Fuller. Oliver quotes himself as asking, "Do you want to dance?" Mcklean quotes his former sergeant as asking if he wanted a "lap dance?"

While either question might have been asked in jest, it was perceived as offensive.

According to a memo written by LPD Capt. David Ray on July 30, Mcklean requested a meeting with Ray on July 21, about the incident in General Sessions court on July 14.

"Detective Oliver made comments to him that made him uncomfortable," Ray wrote. Passing Mcklean, Oliver is reported to have asked, "do you want a lap dance?" and this made Mcklean "very uncomfortable."

Ray reported that he met with Chief Chuck Forbis and then with Oliver on July 22. Ray writes that Oliver "admitted everything," stating, "I asked Det. Mcklean if he wanted to dance." According to Ray's memo, Oliver denies saying "lap dance."

Others might not be offended, but the decision toward disciplinary action "wasn't based on that one incident," Fuller said.

In Oliver's personnel file is a disciplinary note, dated Jan. 26, 2007, put there because a female employee complained that Oliver was trying to e-mail her a picture of a woman in a thong.

"Note this is the second time Det. Cpl. Oliver has been spoken to about offensive material. This will become part of his permanent file," according to a written statement by Det. Sgt. Dac Burrow, Oliver's then-superior officer.

Oliver was promoted to detective sergeant almost a year ago, when Burrow returned to his former job of patrol officer.

Oliver's personnel file reveals that he has received commendations from former Chief Wayne Coomes and from Forbis for good police work. The file contains copies of numerous certificates earned by attending a variety of police training sessions.

The incident in the jury box came a few weeks after all city employees were directed to attend a seminar prompted by the Tennessee Municipal League's Insurance Pool, according to Fuller.

Respect in the workplace was the subject of the seminar that followed an incident at the firing range at Henry Horton State Park, Fuller said. A verbal complaint came from now-former Officer Denise Savage. She quit without prodding and apparently moved back to where she lived before in New England. Her complaint was over a question asked about another officer who was wearing tight blue jeans. Savage said she was offended.

"We don't really know who said it or what was said," Fuller explained.

The comment was by one of three men who were near Savage when she heard the statement. Each pointed to another man as the culprit when they were confronted about the statement.

No conclusion could be reached about that incident nearly two months ago.

That led to the seminar on workplace respect, and subsequently there was the incident in the jury box.

"The chief and I talked to him," Fuller said of Oliver and Forbis.

"We talked about straight termination and resignation," Fuller said. "He asked about going back to patrol."

That was late last week, Fuller said Tuesday, explaining Oliver was given time to discuss it with his family over the weekend.

In a Wednesday night telephone interview, Oliver said, "The city manager asked me if I'd resign...."

Minor's position was noted by Oliver.

As Oliver recalls, it was Fuller who asked if he would go back to a patrol position.

"I said, 'There's a possibility,'" Oliver reported during the telephone interview.

But, he also explained, "It's hard to say how it came up - something about patrol."

Fuller then said if Oliver would agree to return to street patrol, then the police chief should be consulted.

"The chief called me that afternoon and said if I wanted to take that option (of uniform patrol on night shift) I could," Oliver said.

Statements from Oliver and Fuller agree on what happened next.

"We got back together on Monday and Jimmy resigned," Fuller said.

Asked why, Oliver said, "Minor wanted me gone. I didn't see any reason to stay when he wanted me gone from that spot and so for my sake, I resigned."

Oliver says the police chief opposed Oliver's removal, "but in the end, he didn't have a say in it. He didn't think it was right."

Early information about these circumstances indicated there was a complaint from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and while Oliver concluded fear of the NAACP played a factor in the situation, there were other factors. They include the prospect of litigation and the state's policy that Tennessee is a right-to-work state, meaning employees may be released without a reason.

Like others whose work includes legalities, the detective sergeant's work includes some unfinished business.

Oliver has some criminal casework to complete and as he does that, he will be compensated, the city manager said.

Fuller declined to say more about the jury box incident, nor would he discuss what other incidents might have been related to the conclusion of Oliver's employment with the city.

Meanwhile, the Marshall County Sheriff's Department was to conduct a routine Civil Service test for job applicants. There's a job opening for a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Forrest School in Chapel Hill.

Fuller was under the impression that Oliver had planned to take the Civil Service test.

"He's got experience, and has training," Fuller said. "I'd recommend him (for the SRO job) at Forrest High if the sheriff (Les Helton) or Billy Lamb (the chief deputy) called."

Oliver confirmed his interest in becoming the SRO in Chapel Hill, but was clear that he does not have the job yet. He was taking the civil service test at the Sheriff's Department on Thursday.

"I always thought that if I had an opportunity to do that (kind of work, SRO) I'd do it in Chapel Hill where my kids go" to school, Oliver said.

Because of acquaintances and friends in that part of the county, he felt as though he would "have allies in that school."

Given the extensive statements and records examined, efforts to reach Mcklean were made since early this week. The detective answered the phone at the police detective office on Thursday morning.

"Right now at this moment, I can't talk about it because I'm going through a process," Mcklean said, deflecting discussion.

Asked what process, the detective replied that he'd prefer that he speak after Fuller spoke publicly. Mcklean was apparently unaware that Fuller spoke earlier.

"I had a meeting Wednesday with Mr. Fuller and he said he'd contact you and tell you what's going on," Mcklean said Thursday. "Once he talks to you, then you can contact me.

"Something else has come up, so he definitely has to talk to you. After you speak with him... then we'll go from there," Mcklean said.

Fuller answered his cell phone shortly thereafter and explained that McKlean filed an EEOC complaint on Monday and that notification of that was received at the police station here on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.

The complaint was addressed to the Lewisburg Police on Water Street in Lawrenceburg, the Lawrence County seat, Fuller said.

The prospect, or possibility, that Mcklean might agree to an end to the EEOC complaint was the subject of a subsequent conversation between the city manager and the detective, the city manager said.

Mcklean was called again and was advised that Fuller spoke of the EEOC complaint and about whether the EEOC complaint might be resolved, dismissed, withdrawn or just ended.

The sound of another phone ringing could be heard on the call to Mcklean at the detective division, the detective put the interview on hold, and returned moments later offering to call back.