COLUMBIA — Gary Maddox, director of the MU Extension Law Enforcement Training Institute, said he was removed from office April 28 after an anonymous letter-writer complained to his superiors about his references to God and his relaxed reaction to a bouncy-balls prank at an April 23 graduation ceremony.
University spokespeople have confirmed that Maddox no longer works at MU but are saying little else.
LETI provides education and training to law enforcement officials, the majority of whom are police officers, and Maddox has led the institute for 17 years. He said that on April 27, Debbie Robison, associate vice provost for MU Extension, called him into her office to read excerpts from the typed letter, which he said he was not allowed to see because he might be able to tell who sent it.
Maddox said Melinda Adams, manager of MU Extension’s human resources, was also present. He took notes on the meeting and the letter’s contents and was asked to explain each complaint. They also included the use of profanity from another instructor, the acknowledgment of another LETI instructor's retirement and a joke he told to open the ceremony at Hearnes Center Fieldhouse.
Robison later asked Maddox to return to her office the next day. When he did, she slid non-renewal papers across the desk toward him.
"Let's get this over with," Maddox recalled her saying.
Robison put him on paid administrative employment leave until August and said his contract will not be renewed for the next fiscal year. She took his office keys, ID card and university cell phone.
LETI administrative associate Lisa Dority said students are concerned about Maddox's removal but would not confirm how many calls and e-mails the LETI office has received since students learned of Maddox’s removal. She referred questions to MU Extension human resources.
Adams said personnel issues are confidential and would not confirm whether Maddox left or was fired. Robison and her secretary directed questions to MU Extension spokeswoman Dolores Shearon, who seemed to know few details about the complaints and confirmed only that Maddox no longer works for MU. She confirmed that Robison is the direct supervisor for continuing education directors.
Letter: References to God are offensive
Maddox said the letter-writer complained about references to God throughout the ceremony — in a closing prayer said by a student, his own comments at the ceremony and in a leaflet highlighting academy coordinator Ken Hawkins' retirement.
Larry Parham, a Sedalia Police Department detective who teaches a training block about gangs for LETI, said it's common to include prayers at police graduation ceremonies. April graduate Aaron Levinson said the class requested the prayer, which was read by fellow graduate Dustin Millsap.
The class called Millsap “Rev” because he used to work at a Bible camp. At the ceremony in Hearnes Center Fieldhouse, Millsap prayed for the safety of class members as they began their duties, Levinson said. Maddox said another instructor told him during the middle of the ceremony that the class wished to say a prayer and he allowed it on the spot.
Maddox said he said, “Amen, Mr. Millsap,” to the audience after he spoke. He also said, “May God bless and keep each of you safe,” to the class at the end of the ceremony.
The other use of God was in a half-page blurb in a leaflet acknowledging Hawkins as a Vietnam War veteran and a valuable LETI instructor. It said, “Ken, May God bless and keep you always. Your LETI family.” Maddox said the letter-writer faulted the Hawkins leaflet as a waste of ink, paper and MU resources. The writer said the use of God was offensive to non-Christians and had no place in the ceremony.
Students prank Maddox at ceremony
Students also played a prank on Maddox at the ceremony. Matt Peters, an April graduate, said a classmate purchased bouncy balls beforehand, and many students slipped a ball to Maddox when they shook his hand.
The prank was intended to be one last joke on their instructor, with Maddox left with 44 balls in his pockets, one for every graduate, Peters said. Maddox said a few students whispered in his ear that they had forgotten their ball.
He said that after the first student slipped him a ball, he saw the class laughing, so he shrugged his shoulders, bounced each one as it came and then put it in his pocket. His biggest concern was bouncing the ball too hard and having it roll away, he said.
Maddox felt the need to explain to the curious audience why he looked “like a hamster with his pockets bulging.” He told the audience that the prank had never happened to him before and that although there were many, possibly inappropriate, things running through his mind to say, he would leave the audience with a simple declaration: “Thanks to you class, I now have pockets full of balls."
The letter-writer said the reference was to his male genitalia and that bouncing balls on stage was annoying and disrespectful, Maddox said. His superiors told him that his attempt at humor was the wrong thing to say, Maddox said.
“My attitude (at the academy) is I want you to work like there is no tomorrow, but I want you to enjoy your work every day,” Maddox said about his response to the prank. He said it was a way to let off pressure after a hard session, and he was glad the students could have fun at their graduation.
Peters said students were pleased with the “quirky” and “laid-back” instructor’s response.
“His reaction was wonderful,” Peters said.
Response to other complaints
A basket and a plaque were presented to Hawkins by Maddox on behalf of LETI instructors. The basket contained several Dr. Peppers, Snickers, Skoal and bologna. Hawkins was known for regularly bringing bologna sandwiches to work for lunch, Parham said. The anonymous letter-writer said the presentation took away from the graduates themselves and was a waste of time and money, Maddox said. Levinson said the students had no problem with their instructor being honored alongside of them.
“I thought it was kind of fitting since we are (Hawkins') last class,” Levinson said. “I thought it made sense.” Parham said there was a standing ovation following the presentation honoring Hawkins.
Other complaints in the letter, according to Maddox, were:
- Chief firearms instructor William Stephens alleged use of the word “shit” during his ceremony presentation. Maddox said he did not hear this and did not know whether the complaint was valid.
- A Reader's Digest joke, slightly altered to encompass LETI characters, which Maddox told to open the ceremony. The letter said the joke made MU look “cheap," Maddox said.
- Maddox’s reference to LETI seminar coordinator and instructor Scott Connor’s “lovely diamond stud earrings” during staff introductions. Maddox said Connor asked him to explain that he was wearing the earrings for an undercover work assignment. The letter criticized Maddox for “outing” an undercover police officer. It also said his comments toward a man wearing earrings insulted different gender and sexual preferences.
Maddox said Robison agreed with the letter’s author on every complaint. He said Robison and Adams thought allowing Millsap's prayer and the way in which he handled the ball prank were improper. They also said Maddox should have disciplined Stephens for his language during the ceremony. They said Hawkins should have been honored after the ceremony, Maddox said.
“Every explanation I gave for every allegation against me was wrong (according to them),” Maddox said. He said Robison thanked him for his honesty in explaining his actions.
Maddox said Robison told him they did not know the identity of the letter’s author but that she believed that if one person felt compelled to write the letter, several other people must have been offended. He does not know whether there was an investigation into the letter’s complaints but doesn’t see how a thorough investigation could be held in the five days between the ceremony and his termination.
The anonymous letter also made three demands:
- That Maddox apologize to all graduates and law enforcement agency attendees for offensive remarks.
- To require someone from MU Extension to attend all future LETI ceremonies and events.
- To train LETI instructors on university prayer policies. Banken, the news bureau director, said she did not know of any written MU policy that prohibits the use of prayer in MU events or ceremonies.
Asked whether any past behavioral issues had come up with MU Extension, Maddox said that about three years, he was put on suspension for about a week while MU Extension conducted an investigation stemming from a complaint by a former computer programmer there. The programmer told Robison about an e-mail containing a joke or cartoon of questionable taste that was sent from Maddox's account.
Maddox said that about six months earlier, he had fired the programmer because he came to work hung over, dated then-current female students and gave students answers to test questions. (According to Maddox, the firing had to be re-done and the programmer was put on paid leave until his one-year contract ran out.)
Maddox said that at the time, he could not recall whether he sent the e-mail because it had been sent months earlier but jokes and cartoons are often sent among LETI staff, as well as many other offices on campus.
The investigator found the ex-programmer's concerns not to be a legitimate problem at LETI and Maddox’s character sound, Maddox said. He was reinstated after a week but had to undergo six months' probation and sexual harassment, behavioral and managerial training because of the incident.
Maddox said that during the meeting about the letter complaints, Robison reminded him of this incident after he explained his response to the ball prank.
Asked about this, Shearon, the MU Extension spokeswoman, said an investigation or probation of an employee is a personnel matter and thus confidential.
A wave of support
Tonya Logan Lyman, a former police officer, retrained in last summer’s LETI session. On May 2 she created the Facebook page "Reinstate Dr. Gary Maddox as director of LETI" after talking to the former director over that weekend.
Lyman said Maddox was a great instructor and was largely responsible for turning LETI into a well-known and reputable academy.
“When you saw he was going to teach a class on your schedule, you got excited,” Lyman said.
On the Facebook page, which on Tuesday morning had 292 members, students praised Maddox for his work as program director for the past 17 years and adamantly expressed that nothing about the April 23 ceremony was offensive. Maddox said he has received many e-mails, texts and calls.
“I’m very touched by the outpouring of support,” he said.
Future of the program
Shearon confirmed that Von Pittman became LETI interim director on May 7. Pittman will temporarily stop serving as director for the Center of Distance and Independent Study. CDIS Associate Director Gera Burton will take his place in his absence.
A national search for a permanent director will be held, Shearon said, and MU Extension hopes to fill the position in six months.
Both Lyman and Parham said that if they were in Maddox’s shoes they would seek legal counsel, though they do not know what he plans to do. Maddox has said only that he is keeping his options open.
“He’s been there for 17 years,” Parham said. “If I were him I would fight for it. I wouldn’t just give it up.”
For now, Maddox is looking for other jobs. Although he is paid until August, he is anxious to find work to support three of his four children in college. He does not think MU will give him his job back, despite the outpouring of support. For now, he is trying to get used to the idea of working somewhere else.
“I had every expectation of spending the rest of my time running LETI,” said Maddox, 57. “I would have worked to death to keep that place at the quality that it is.”
The LETI director position pays $87,153, according to the official manual of the state of Missouri.
He said the loss of his job is one of the most hurtful things he has ever experienced, and he is shocked that he lost it over an anonymous complaint.
“I spent my life teaching constitutional and civil rights,” he said, “and there is no such thing as being convicted based on an anonymous allegation.”