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Bowen mediation at impasse

Jake Old • Updated Feb 4, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Mediation between former Lebanon police Chief Scott Bowen and the city over his 2014 termination reached an impasse, according to attorneys representing each side of the dispute.

The two sides met Jan. 24, and the mediator, retired judge John Turbull, called an impasse about two hours into the session when the two sides could not come to an agreement.

“The parties couldn’t get even close to settling,” Keith Williams, an attorney representing Bowen, said.

The case will now go to trial Nov. 13-22. Chancellor C.K. Smith, who originally oversaw the case before ruling that it should go to a mediator, will hear the case.

Smith made the decision that the case should go to a mediator in December 2016. The two sides agreed on a mediator and date for mediation.

Prior to the call for mediation, Smith had delayed a ruling in the appeal from December 2016 to November 2017, citing a lack of time to consider information’s from both sides in the dispute. The two sides had only booked one day in court for the case to be heard, and Smith said it would likely take at least a week to consider all of the information from both sides.

In December 2016, Williams told The Lebanon Democrat that neither side pushed for mediation.

The dispute between Bowen and the city stems from his firing by former Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead in 2014. Bowen alleged that the firing was illegal and politically charged.

Williams filed the initial appeal in chancery court after hearing officer Brett Gipson ruled last year that Craighead had cause to fire Bowen.

Craighead fired Bowen in 2014 after an incident involving the city’s Public Safety division.

A change in the city’s charter gave Craighead the sole authority to fire Bowen without the Lebanon City Council’s approval. It also made a provision for Bowen and potentially future department heads in similar situations to appeal disciplinary actions before an administrative law judge.

Prior to the change, the mayor and at least four city councilors’ approval was needed to fire department heads.

The same city charter change the council approved also made Public Safety its own department within the city. When that change took place, five Public Safety officers, including current police Chief Mike Justice, continued to use the police department’s originating agency identification number for access to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center database.

Lebanon city attorney Andy Wright previously said Bowen told a police administrator to contact TBI, asking the agency whether the five officers could access a state and federal database for criminal history, driver’s license and tag information and other sensitive information used by law enforcement agencies.

Since Public Safety became its own department through the charter change, it didn’t have its own identification number for the TBI system because it previously operated as a division of the police department. Each law enforcement agency is assigned its own identification number.

Wright also said Bowen was correct to notify TBI of the Public Safety officers, but it was the way he went about doing it that ultimately cost him his job. He said Bowen was fired for not telling anyone about the noncompliance issue between the five Lebanon Public Safety officers and TBI.

Bowen’s attorneys argue that the firing was political, and filed the writ of certiorari in chancery court as a means of appealing the previous decision to uphold the firing as having cause.

The hearing was previously delayed from March 2016 until December 2016. Williams said he and Bowen have been ready to go to trial for a long time, and they are looking forward to a resolution. 

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