The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

June 12, 2012

Court affirms firing of former Joplin police officer who was part of FBI investigation

An appeals court has upheld the firing of a former Joplin police officer who was dismissed on assertions that he associated with gamblers and convicted felons, lied to FBI investigators, and caused the FBI to question whether the Joplin Police Department could be trusted.

There is substantial evidence supporting the reasons for the city’s firing of former police Lt. Geoff Jones, and there was no error of law in a decision by the Jasper County Circuit Court to uphold the decision, judges of the Missouri Court of Appeals wrote.

“We are pleased that the court upheld the city’s position,” said City Manager Mark Rohr in an email response to the Globe’s request for comment on the outcome of the appeal.

Jones’ attorney, Richard Schnake, of Springfield, said he would discuss the ruling with Jones, and they would decide whether to pursue a further appeal. Jones has the option of asking the appeals court for a rehearing or for a transfer of the case to the Missouri Supreme Court. Jones did not return a message left with his attorney asking if he wished to comment.

Jones had been employed at the Joplin Police Department for 18 years when he was fired Feb. 8, 2008.

The action took place three days after police Chief Lane Roberts asked Jones to explain statements Jones had made to the FBI during questioning about his ties to gambling and bookmaking suspects in the Joplin area, as well as the disappearance of a file regarding an internal investigation into missing law enforcement funds.

Jones told the chief that his association with the suspects had been limited to encountering them at recreational poker clubs in public restaurants and bars.

He did admit that he violated Police Department procedure by taking an inmate out of the city jail and allowing the individual to use Jones’ cellphone to make phone calls instead of the jail phones. Calls on jail phones are recorded. Jones said he did so because the individual was a family friend but acknowledged it was not permitted by jail policy. Court documents do not identify that inmate.

The police chief testified at a personnel board hearing for Jones that FBI agents had told the chief that the federal agency could not work with the department because they could not trust Jones based on evidence that had been gathered in the gambling probe. The chief had viewed that evidence and testified that it was enough to convince him that the FBI had good reasons for its concerns.

Officers are required by city and Police Department policy to conduct themselves in a manner that does not bring discredit to themselves or the department.

Court documents do not identify the gambling suspects or indicate whether the investigation has been completed.

Two Joplin men, Kenneth B. Lovett, 72, and William Lisle, 57, were indicted in February on charges related to Internet bookmaking. Lovett pleaded guilty in May and is awaiting sentencing.

As part of that probe, Jones was questioned about a missing department file of an internal affairs investigation he did of an officer who was assigned to the Jasper County Drug Task Force when $63,000 disappeared from the unit’s office. That officer was forced to resign.

Jones fought the city’s decision regarding his firing.

He countered that the city failed to follow its own rules and procedures in disciplinary cases. The police chief fired Jones, though city policy requires that the city manager decide disciplinary action after recommendations from the department head and other city administrators, Jones argued.

The appeals court wrote that is true, but that prejudice also must be shown from the error in due process, and Jones presented no evidence to that effect.

Jones’ lawyer has contended that the action was taken merely on unsubstantiated suspicion.

Schnake argued that the city’s personnel board had found that Roberts fired Jones because the police chief believed it was necessary to maintain good relations with the FBI. That was ironic, Schnake said, because Jones cooperated with the FBI investigation all along.

“The problem is: He didn’t convince them he was telling the truth,” the attorney said.



Evidence

THE APPEALS COURT WROTE that there was “substantial and competent evidence” to support the city’s decision to fire Geoff Jones.

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