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UPDATE: Law enforcement director says he was fired over anonymous letter

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 7:33 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Aaron Levinson draws his speaking topic from Gary Maddox on the first day of class on Jan. 11. After students spoke about their topics in front of the class, they received feedback on which mannerisms would help or hurt them as law enforcement officers. Maddox was the director of the Law Enforcement Training Institute until he was fired April 28.

*UPDATE: This story has been updated to include information about Gary Maddox being briefly suspended a few years ago.

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.

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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.

MU News Bureau Director Mary Jo Banken said staff and faculty cannot talk about personnel issues because of a human resources policy (HR114) that makes them confidential.

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.

*Past suspension

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.”


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Comments

Tonya Lyman May 11, 2010 | 5:35 p.m.

This entire situation is simply unbelievable. If the 44 graduates that paid over $3500.00 each to attend LETI have no problems with graduation ceremony, should anything else matter?

If police officers starting doing raids on anonymous letters, the Federal government would shut them down.

How is it wrong to ask God to protect those that are going to go out to work and risk their very lives to protect them.

Beware MU employees, your position may be terminated at any time with no cause.

MU officials, please set an example for all of the students on your campus and DO THE RIGHT THING. It isn't hard. Give Dr. Maddox his job back.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz May 11, 2010 | 7:45 p.m.

Dr. Maddox might wish to contact the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (http://www.thefire.org/) if he wishes to fight this, although it's probably too late now.

(Report Comment)
Crystal Thompson May 11, 2010 | 8:13 p.m.

I believe the University of Missouri has made a mistake of a life time. That will only lead to lose of money, good students, and above all a man that deserves nothing more than what he has taught the students at LETI for the past 17 years he graced the doors at this "school". RESPECT and a fair ethical explanation and look into this coward’s way of voicing a problem.

As for having God mentioned in the ceremony, the first amendment is still one of the most vital parts of the United States Constitution. I thank GOD every day for the men and women I went through class with these past months. These are the same men and women who will be putting their lives in God’s hands every day to protect "anonymous" people.

Last but not least, Dr. Maddox will be one of the greatest influences in my life, and the fact that his reputation and integrity was placed upon a letter written by a coward ("anonymous") is unreasonable and poor judgment on the University of Missouri staff and officials. What goes around comes around!

(Report Comment)
tina rowe May 11, 2010 | 9:57 p.m.

I hope that MU realizes the tragic mistake that it has made in regard to Dr. Maddox. LETI was the outstanding and nationally recongized police training academy because of Dr. Maddox.
The grraduates from LETI protect thier communities daily, putting thier lives on the line every time they put on the badge and the duty belt. They even protect the cowards that write anonymous letters, but do not have the guts to openly tell a man that they were offended. The graduation ceremonies are about the instructors and about the graduating recruits, who cares if someone in the audience did not like what they heard, they are not the ones that deserve to be blessed and protected on a daily basis as they are not the ones putting their lives on the line. Bottom line is the graduation ceremony is for the students and if they were not offended then no one else should have been either.
MU needs to do the right thing and reinstate DR M ASAP... LETI will not be the same without him and the attendance as well as the program will suffer without his expertise and knowledge.
Give him one of the many things that he teaches and that is RESPECT.
There is one more thing that he teaches, that MU did not give him and that is Right to due process, there was never a chance to prove his innocence, he was thought to be guilty with the strike of a pen never given a chance to defend himself or the actions he was accused of.

I hope that someday Ms. Robison and Ms. Adams are treated the same way that they have treated Dr. Maddox, I would venture to say that they do not handle it with as much dignity and honor that Dr. Maddox has. GOD BLESS YOU Dr. Maddox.

(Report Comment)
Dan Dothage May 12, 2010 | 12:36 a.m.

What a shame.

Ms. Robison and Ms. Adams' comments and interpretations offend me. Can I have their bosses give them a letter of non-renewal? Crap...can't now because my name's on this forum...it's no longer anonymous. Glad I found this out now before scheduling classes at MU. If the school's administration lets this go unanswered, it sounds as if the school overall has bigger problems.

I pray God's blessings on all these students that will be stepping into harm's way.

Dr. Maddox, may God bless you with your future endeavors! Thank you for leading and teaching so many of our brave law enforcement personnel for so many years.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger May 12, 2010 | 7:54 a.m.

I have to believe there's more to this story than is being reported. If not, then what happened to Mr. Maddox is an utter travesty and a very, very black mark on the university. His infractions, as laid out in the letter, are trivial at best. When I taught at MU in the late 60s, I confess I did things in class which, if Robison applied the same criteria, would lead the university to never stop firing me.

(Report Comment)
Shane Pierce May 12, 2010 | 9:01 a.m.

Hank,

The sad thing is that there is not more to this story. As a former student of Dr. Maddox, I can assure you that he is intelligent, professional and an excellent teacher.

The problem is the liberal agenda at MU, they really dont want the Law Enforcement Training Institute as part of Mizzou. Its a well know fact when you attend there that you are not well liked by the rest of the school. The classroom is crappy, stuck on the top floor of the hearnes center, and not once did i see anyone else from MU besides the 3 instructors.

The chancellor probably couldn't find it if he tried.

The worst part about this, is Dr. Maddox and the other instructors made LETI the best Law Enforcement Academy in the state. I could have gone elsewhere as I paid my own way. After seeing what they have done, I will not return for continuing education classes.

If a muslim student wished to pray the so called "bosses" at the school would be happy to let it happen and would have probably fired Maddox if he didnt allow it. I use the term bosses lightly as I feel someone who is in charge of something should have some leadership qualities, be able to put politics aside, and have honor and integrity. The two immature women who fired him, have none of those.

If there was more to the story there wouldnt be 350 people who risk there lives everyday supporting him on facebook

http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid...

(Report Comment)
KEN GERINGER May 12, 2010 | 9:39 a.m.

Wonder what the real reason is. As a non-believer I would prefer God be kept out of the graduation ceremony. I would not wish a person to be fired over the reported incidents. Must be much more going on here.

(Report Comment)
Clara Allen May 12, 2010 | 11:11 a.m.

Two things I am curious about:

MU Extension - is this the beginning of the end? There are folks who want the extension gone. This in spite of the university's land grant status. The governor, perhaps?

Who is the letter writer related to, or have pull with?

Because this makes the hooha with the Navy contract over in the engineering dept. pale in comparison.

(Report Comment)
tina rowe May 12, 2010 | 12:46 p.m.

Ken,
As previously stated in the comments, there is nothing else going on, Dr. Maddox made LETI one of the best law enforcement training academies in the state. Many decorated officers are proud to say that they were taught by Dr. Maddox, unfortunately now they are not so proud to say that they graduated from LETI and MU. Our group has 352 supporters of Dr. Maddox, I highly doubt that many people would support a cause of this nature if Dr. Maddox was not the man that he is.

http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=...

Check out this link.. you will see

(Report Comment)
a t May 12, 2010 | 1:54 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
KEN GERINGER May 12, 2010 | 3:22 p.m.

Tina,

So what is the deal?

(Report Comment)
KEN GERINGER May 12, 2010 | 3:33 p.m.

I should also say that given the info included, this result makes no sense.

(Report Comment)
Colin Comer May 12, 2010 | 3:38 p.m.

Without regard to Gary Maddox directly, or anyone else who has suffered from the oppressive and un-American notion of "political correctness", there are bigger issues at hand here.

- Anonymous complaints are properly discarded. Even child molesters get a chance to face their accusers.

- The Constitution protects free speech and freedom of religion, and I would think that liberal institutions like MU would defend such a stance. Agreeable speech does not need protection. See the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the U.S. Constitution. You also might watch the opening of the US Senate every day.

- Given the above, there is no right to not be offended. MU's actions have offended me, more than than once on similar issues, to no end.

- MU touts tolerance, but apparently has none for Christians. However, God is recognized in many other religions as well. Sometimes it is by other names, but it is still that religion's God.

- It is annoying, childish, self centered, and petty when a guest comes to such an event and then demands that the ceremonies be conducted according to their preferences, and obvious prejudices. This is the height of bad manners, and if the complainant did not like the ceremony he was free to leave...and shut up. The complainant is not the center of the universe or the designated censor. Neither is MU.

- This is still, for a while anyway, America. No one has to "respect" anyone. Respect must be earned, and each of us decides what that requires. Courtesy is expected in a civilized society, which would have included polite silence on the part of the complainant.

- Finally, much to the dismay of intolerant, Christian (and maybe other) hating bigots everywhere, I can assure them, with 30+ years in criminal justice and law enforcement, that officers pray constantly in uniform, plain clothes, patrol cars, police departments, dark, rain, snow, blood and gore. It is something we share with soldiers, and both human rights and the Constitution say we can. Of course, you cannot stop us anyway.

Colin Comer, M.S.

(Report Comment)
KEN GERINGER May 12, 2010 | 3:57 p.m.

Colin,

What is up with you?

(Report Comment)
Tiffany Luetjen May 12, 2010 | 4:37 p.m.

I graduated LETI in December 2009. I can say first hand that the instructors are amazing! They are the reason why LETI is one of the most highly respected and well know academies.
Dr. Maddox has a wonderful gift. He is able to take a dry mannered subject and make it interesting to the students.

I was shocked by this "letter". How could this person say that giving praise to Mr. Hawkins for all his hard work and dedication to the academy was a waste of time and money? Mr. Hawkins is the type of person would help out a complete stranger! He is a great man and I admire him very much. Taking a few minutes to honor him was the right and respectable thing to do.

Mr. Maddox is a man of great integrity and honor. LETI will not be the same without him In firing Dr. Maddox the future of academy and it's reputation will suffer greatly. I hope and PRAY TO GOD that the right actions are taken and he is given the respect and dignity that he has certainly earned and deserves.

Tiffany Luetjen

(Report Comment)
Shane Pierce May 12, 2010 | 4:57 p.m.

Ken,

I think he made his stance and reasoning clear.

What is up with you?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 13, 2010 | 5:41 a.m.

I agree with Shane Pierce, if what is in the article is truly all there is, there's no sense to it. Why should anyone be terminated based on one anonymous letter or because they voiced personal religious sentiments? If future employees are to be "muzzled" about stating their religious beliefs, UM System will turn away valuable employees.

Such a "litmus test" won't fly at the Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis campuses, whose combined enrollments now represent 55% of the university's students, and, if push comes to shove, it won't wash in Missouri's courts.

BTW, what was the MU chancellor's role in the matter at hand?

(Report Comment)
tina rowe May 13, 2010 | 12:39 p.m.

Ken go to the website previously given, it is the FB website started to get DR. Maddox reinstated there is letter there written personally by Dr. Maddox that explains alot.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=11...

check it out and we hope that you are agree with the over 400 people that are showing their support for Dr. Maddox and if you don't agree with what MU did to Dr. Maddox, we would be happy for you to join our group and show your support as well.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Davidson May 13, 2010 | 1:06 p.m.

As a christian, I am offended that I cannot hear the name God spoken without someone getting in trouble. I was in attendance at this graduation ceremony and was not offended in any way.

I believe that if someone had a legitimate complaint or concern then they should have had the guts to sign their name. That's one of the problems in this country now, nobody takes responsibility for their actions. It's the "I'll complain anonymously and let someone else deal with it" mentality. Unlike the person that submitted that letter, I will sign my name.

Kevin Davidson
Deputy Sheriff, Retired

(Report Comment)

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