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Latest hearing begins for fired police chief

Jacob Smith • Nov 13, 2017 at 6:19 PM

The appeal hearing regarding the firing of former Lebanon police chief Scott Bowen began Monday after it was continued for nearly a year in December 2016.

Bowen alleges his firing by then-Lebanon Mayor Phillip Craighead in 2014 was illegal and politically charged.

Chancellor C.K. Smith in December delayed the hearing in late 2016 when, according to Smith, as many as 400-500 pages of documents were filed in the case between Bowen and the city. Smith said there was not enough time in one day to consider all details from both sides in the case, and the attorneys representing each side should have requested more than just one day for the case to be heard.

“Did you really believe that I could read all of this and make a decision in one day?” Smith asked the attorneys representing both sides in December. “Maybe you thought I could just touch it and absorb the information through osmosis.”

Smith said he was not willing to work past 4 p.m. to try to make a ruling in one day. He told the attorneys to schedule at least three days for a hearing and as many as six.

On Monday, the eight-day appeal hearing began and both Bowen and the city’s attorneys submitted their documents to Smith. Smith then called a recess until he could go through all of the documents.

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

Attorney Keith Williams, representing Bowen, filed the appeal in chancery court after hearing officer Brett Gipson ruled in 2015 that Craighead has cause to fire Bowen.

A change in the city’s charter in 2014 gave Craighead the sole authority to fire Bowen without the 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.

Andy Wright, Lebanon’s city attorney, 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, 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 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 case is scheduled for eight days in chancery court and will resume when Smith has a chance to review all of the documents submitted by both sides. 

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