Tenn. city council upholds officer firing for shoving Walmart patron


By Jacqueline Koch
Chattanooga Times Free Press

TENNESSEE — In upholding the firing of former Chattanooga police officer Ralph Kenneth Freeman, City Council members expressed disbelief that he further would compromise his career after shoving a Walmart greeter.

"You're intelligent enough that I find it shocking you did not realize the precariousness of your situation," council Chairman Jack Benson said during Mr. Freeman's appeal hearing on Monday. "You were perceived in this community as out of control."

The council voted 5-0 to sustain police Chief Freeman Cooper's decision to fire Mr. Freeman on Aug. 12.

Mr. Freeman was given a 28-day suspension without pay for shoving a Walmart greeter in Collegedale on Dec. 24, 2008.

Then, in July, a police internal affairs investigation revealed that Mr. Freeman consumed alcohol while armed, possessed an unauthorized off-duty firearm, billed a company for hours he did not work, lied to investigators and worked an extra security job while on leave from the department.

Chief Cooper said his staff thought Mr. Freeman should have been fired after the Walmart incident. On Monday, Internal Affairs Capt. Mike Mathis went further when pressed by Mr. Freeman's attorney Ben Reese during testimony.

"He should have gone to jail," Capt. Mathis said.

Chief Cooper said his decision to fire Mr. Freeman in August was based on past discipline -- which also included a three-day suspension and two written reprimands -- and the totality of the former officer's character and career.

The chief said he did not dislike Mr. Freeman and would want him on his team as part of any investigation. But "it had come to a point that he was not an asset to me as an administrator -- he was a liability," Chief Cooper said. "I felt like I had reached the end of my ability to salvage Kenneth Freeman."

After the hearing, Mr. Freeman referred questions to Mr. Reese, who said he would issue a written statement later Monday. He had not issued it by Monday evening.

During testimony, Mr. Freeman said that he was treated unfairly and that internal affairs investigators didn't properly perform their jobs.

"(Chief Cooper) singled me out on this," Mr. Freeman said. "He has no standard when it comes to discipline."

Mr. Reese asked the council to consider the former officer's 15-year history with the department as well as several letters of commendation, including an Investigator of the Year award in 2005.

"When you consider his outstanding performance record, the punishment is not only disproportionate for the events that occurred, it's shocking," Mr. Reese said.

Mr. Reese attempted to point out that Chief Cooper did not fire then-Assistant Chief Jeannie Snyder, who in 2008 reportedly was drunk and disorderly at a Marietta, Ga., mall and was taken to a local hospital for treatment of a possible drug overdose, according to Times Free Press archives.

Crystal Freiberg, the administration's attorney, objected to the point.

Her objection was sustained by Mr. Benson.

"We're not going to go down this road," he said.

THE STORY SO FAR

The allegations that ultimately led to Ralph Kenneth Freeman's termination from the Chattanooga Police Department stemmed from a domestic assault call on July 18. While no criminal charges resulted from that call, other allegations came up during its investigation. Mr. Freeman admitted he consumed alcohol while armed and that he possessed an off-duty weapon that he had not been cleared to carry by the department, both violations of department policy. While on leave pending the outcome of the domestic investigation, Mr. Freeman also allegedly worked an extra job at Chattanooga Boiler and Tank and then defrauded that business by claiming hours he didn't work, both violations of department policy.

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