UPDATE: Columbia police officer's firing questioned by union

Thursday, October 27, 2011 | 8:57 a.m. CDT; updated 3:22 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 27, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police voiced its support Wednesday for former Columbia police officer Rob Sanders, offering to provide an attorney for Sanders' appeal of his termination. Sanders was fired from the department on Sept. 21 for using excessive force against a prisoner in a holding cell on Aug. 15.

Kevin Ahlbrand, president of the order, said the internal affairs investigation into Sanders' use of force cleared him of any allegations of misconduct.

"Based on the investigation, Officer Sanders was clearly within law, policy and procedure," Ahlbrand said.

"We do not advocate police misconduct in any way, shape or form, but this was not a case of police misconduct," he said.

Ahlbrand said the inmate Sanders pushed against the wall had resisted arrest and attacked two officers in the street. Sanders did what he needed to do to protect himself, the prisoner and the other officers, he said.

"The intent was not for the man to hit his head on the wall," Ahlbrand said. "You can't predict everything that can happen in those kinds of situations."

He said the order will support Sanders in his legal battle to regain his position. 

"I'm firmly confident that Sanders will get his job back," Ahlbrand said. The order will provide Sanders an attorney because he is a member of the order's legal defense plan.

Ahlbrand said Columbia police officers have told him they are less likely to take action that requires use of force because they fear being wrongly disciplined. He declined, however, to specify how many officers he had spoken with.

"Why would you want to get involved in anything if that's the stance the police chief is going to take? It's getting to be a dangerous situation for the citizens and the officers of Columbia," he said.

Sanders has become the subject of two more internal affairs investigations, one of which also involves his use of force against a prisoner in a holding cell. Columbia police spokeswoman Sgt. Jill Wieneke said Friday that Sanders' supervising officer, a sergeant, reviewed the video surveillance footage of Sanders in the cell and brought it to internal affairs investigators.

On Wednesday, Ahlbrand questioned why Burton decided to investigate another use of force incident involving Sanders, considering Sanders has already been fired. Ahlbrand said it was "a waste of taxpayer funds and an apparent effort to 'circle the wagons.'"

The other pending Internal Affairs investigation of Sanders involves a video made by Citizens for Justice, a group that aims to serve as a resource for "recognizing, acknowledging, and curbing misconduct in the local legal system," according to its website. Wieneke said Friday that when she saw a video of Sanders stopping group founder Matthew Akins, there were aspects of it she found "concerning."

Ahlbrand said the order calls the traffic stop a "non-incident" because a traffic stop requires an officer's reasonable suspicion, not probable cause.

Although Ahlbrand didn't say he knew why Burton had fired Sanders and asked for further investigations, he did offer a possible explanation. 

"I think he's trying to show the citizens of Columbia that he's going to be some type of reformer," he said.

Chief of Police Ken Burton said in an email that he was troubled that any person, police officer or not, could view the Aug. 15 incident as simply "procedure."

"I will continue to work to change an apparent internal culture that sees this behavior as acceptable, or at least excusable based on someone's years of service," Burton wrote. "My expectation remains that all employees of the Columbia Police Department will treat every citizen they contact lawfully and with dignity and respect."

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Gerald Shelnutt October 26, 2011 | 3:43 p.m.

I don't know what it is or who is at fault but there seems to be a problem swirling around the Columbia Police Department.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins October 27, 2011 | 1:32 p.m.

I read the statement Sanders gave Internal Affairs for the first time this morning and his "reasonable suspicion" is very weak. They are some problems I have with the statement, but I will wait to disclose those until I speak to IA.

I will say that I find it hilarious that Sanders had made such a statement as this in the report:

" crossed my mind that perhaps these individuals might have been on their way to do a robbery."

LMAO! Really?

(Report Comment)
Ed Lane October 27, 2011 | 1:46 p.m.

The problem right now appears to be a Department without good leadership. Being afraid to do your job to keep it is a very dangerous situation for the officers involved.
I have a problem with people who jump to conclusions without ALL the evidence!!!!!!

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders October 27, 2011 | 2:16 p.m.

"The intent was not for the man to hit his head on the wall," Ahlbrand said. "You can't predict everything that can happen in those kinds of situations."

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the physics involved when shoving someone headfirst into a wall.

Are public spokespeople this stupid on purpose, or is merely the effect of having to lie constantly?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 27, 2011 | 2:20 p.m.

Ed, I think that CPD has some of the best leadership its had for quite some time. Take a look at CPD's use of force policies, recently put on the city's website here:

Specifically, look at sections 2.1 and 4.1 and tell me how Chief Burton could have made it any clearer that what Officer Sanders did is not following policy?

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm October 27, 2011 | 2:58 p.m.

I think Burton is doing a fantastic job cleaning up the trash at CPD. It would be nice to hear a few of the actual good cops in the department take a stand with Burton but it appears that the blue code of silence trumps the law and civility with the police yet again (and you wonder why so many people do not trust or respect police). The Chief needs to keep chipping away at the "above the law" and "good ole boy" culture that is so rampant at CPD. Don't get me wrong, there are some good men and women at CPD. However, there is also a large group of officers that are more like gang bangers than cops.

Sanders should be counting his blessings that he was not arrested and charged with assault like he should have been and like any other citizen would have been. If he or his wife had half a brain they would shut up and quit embarrassing themselves in the media on a daily basis.

To any CPD members reading this; if you do not understand what was wrong with Sanders actions or you think he should get his job back you are not fit to be a law enforcement officer. Please resign now so the citizens of Columbia do not have to settle another large lawsuit in a few years when they fire you too for doing something criminal like Sanders did.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett October 27, 2011 | 9:57 p.m.

Fact #1: Union dues.

Fact #2: Union supports members.

Fact #3: Union looks good for supporting members.

Fact #4: Good union PR for possible recruiting members?

Fact# 5: Union gets free press to call attention to union supporting members.

Fact# 6: Chief owes no one favors, sees incidents with fresh eye, not a part of so-called "old-boy" network. Can make the decisions that are tough, but unbiased in making them.

Fact #7: Chief acted on firing after extensively viewing tape. Took a tad bit to do so. Wanted to be certain. Was certain. Acted on certainty, and standing by it.

Fact #8: Chief would have most likely rather been giving a citation of bravery for heroic act, if publicity was his aim for department, rather than having to fire someone who definitely did not "make the police look good" with so much attention called to the brutality toward an already-confined fellow human being.

Union, we get it.

No dog. No return to job. Possible assault charges filed. Get it?

Thanks, Chief. For Columbia's sake.

One thing less we have to worry about in Columbia, even when we have to call the police.


(Report Comment)
Gerald Shelnutt October 28, 2011 | 3:51 p.m.

Not sure it's gonna be that easy but we shall see.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor October 28, 2011 | 4:53 p.m.

Police officers scared to do their job because they aren't allowed to jack someone against the wall after they are cuffed and in a cell? Give me a break.

I feel for this guy as I am sure officers have done worse in the past and not been terminated. However, lets just say mr victim decides to sue columbia. We get to pay out of our pockets for this type of thing. So, if that is the backdrop, we have to have a zero tolerance policy. Too bad mr union rep has a problem with the police chief being "some kind of reformer" as that is exactly what the taxpayers want around here.

Don't worry Kev, none of us are losing any sleep about officers that may be scared to jack someone cuffed in their cell. If I was an officer I would be more upset with the part of my pay that goes to you than I would about not being able to dispense punishment in the cells...

(Report Comment)

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