Chancellor delays Bowen hearing a year

Jake Old • Updated Dec 2, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Chancellor C.K. Smith moved an appeal hearing Thursday regarding the firing of former Lebanon police Chief Scott Bowen to next November. 

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

Smith said in court Thursday there was not enough time in one day to consider all details from both sides in the case, and that the attorneys representing each side should have requested more than just one day for the case to be heard. 

According to Smith, as many as 400-500 pages of documents were filed in the case between Bowen and the city. 

Smith said he preferred to focus all of his attention on one case at a time, rather than review materials a little at a time while not reviewing a case. 

Smith said if he considered details of the case only when he had free time, such as at night or on a day when court was cancelled or ended early, he feared it could take weeks or months to come to a decision, and by that time some of the first details he read would likely not be as vivid. If he could focus all of his attention on the case in a span of a few days, he said he would not need to worry about that. 

“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 of the dispute. 

“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. on Thursday 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. 

Attorneys representing the city of Lebanon asked for a motion to not allow new evidence. Smith said he would make a decision on that matter next November, at the same time he considers other information pertinent to the case. 

Both sides agreed to have two three-day hearings next year, one for the decision about new evidence and one for the decision in the appeal case. Smith said it likely would not take the full six days allotted, but he would rather be sure that he had enough time to hear everything from both sides. 

“I don’t mind if you schedule too many days,” he said. “What does make me angry is when you just schedule one day when you clearly need at least two or three.” 

In addition to the written documents to be considered by Smith, live testimony would be given if Smith rules new evidence will be permitted. 

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

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

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 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 until December this year.

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