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."