Fired officer's supporters call for Columbia police chief to resign

Monday, November 21, 2011 | 1:18 p.m. CST; updated 10:40 a.m. CST, Friday, November 25, 2011

COLUMBIA — A group calling itself "Chief Burton Needs to Resign" said Sunday that it is collecting signatures for a petition to ask Police Chief Ken Burton to step down.

The petition is the latest move in the battle between Burton’s supporters and those backing former officer Rob Sanders, whom Burton fired Sept. 21 for using excessive force against a prisoner in a holding cell. An internal affairs investigation cleared Sanders of any policy violations, including a failure to provide adequate medical care and mistreatment of a prisoner under city codes, but Burton overrode the findings.

The group, spearheaded by former law enforcement officer Doug Lane, is basing its complaints against Burton on Internet searches and open records it requested from the Dallas Police Department, where Burton served as an officer from July 1977 until he resigned Feb. 9, 1981.

"It turned into an avalanche of stuff that we kept finding of consistencies in his poor decision making," said Lane, who has not worked with the Columbia Police Department.

The records obtained by the group document then-officer Burton’s resignation from the department after an investigation into his use of excessive force prompted a complaint against him. One of Burton's supervisors, police Sgt. Graham E. Pierce, recommended that Burton be rehired, but police Capt. R.L. Schifelbein disagreed, writing that Burton had resigned before he could be disciplined based on the findings of the investigation.

Lane said the group, which now has about 15 or 20 members, is looking to gather at least 1,000 signatures from Nov. 28 until Jan. 1.

The group is planning to present the petition to City Council, City Manager Mike Matthes and Mayor Bob McDavid along with information the city might not have had about Burton when he was hired in February 2009, Lane said. The group has filed more records requests, which are still being processed, he said.

"We want them to have the full picture," Lane said. "We’re not trying to slander him. We are not trying to railroad him. All these things that we’re trying to present are factual."

Burton said Monday that his resignation from the Dallas Police Department "had nothing to do with" the use-of-force investigation. He said he’d been looking for a job outside law enforcement since early 1980 for personal reasons.

"I had a couple of job offers right at the same time," he said. "I didn’t have time to wait. I had to go. One had nothing to do with the other."

Burton said the incident that spurred the complaint was "a very violent situation" — a high-speed car chase lasting about 25 minutes in which Burton said he pursued a person thought to be involved in an attempted murder. Burton said he apprehended the person by himself and fought over the .44 Magnum handgun the person was carrying.

He said he saw the petition as a "desperation move" from Sanders’ supporters.

"They can’t explain the video (of Sanders in the holding cell), so they have to move the attention away from it," he said.

Lane said the petition was prompted by what the group calls Burton’s inconsistency in following department policies and not in "retribution" for Sanders’ firing or a "political move" to get Sanders rehired. He said the Sanders case was an example of such inconsistency and that he thought Burton should have changed policies the chief questioned before Sanders was fired.

"Chief Burton has left himself out on a limb by overriding his" internal affairs investigators, Lane said. "He can’t change (policies) as time goes on because it’s not fair to everybody. It’s hard enough to be a police officer as it is, but it’s harder to go out when the playbook keeps changing."

Lane said he has experience with law enforcement. He spent eight years in the Marine Corps and several more as a Boone County sheriff's deputy and police officer in several municipalities. He said he knows and has worked with several veteran Columbia police officers within the department who served under at least one chief before Burton and some whose terms date back to former police chief Ernie Barbee’s administration. Lane said those officers told him there was an "underlying discontent" within the department.

"There’s a huge gap between the chief and the men that he’s supposed to lead," Lane said. "There’s great dissatisfaction, from what I hear. The officers who work there are not pleased with the leadership they have, and they don’t believe (Burton) will stand behind the officers."

Burton said officers opposed to the changes being made within the department would have to adjust — and that he’s not alone in amending policies.

"This is not just Columbia, Mo. — this is the entire country," he said. "Officers really have to think about what it is they’re trying to accomplish with a lawful objective and using appropriate force only. The general public is demanding a change in the way the police use force."

Burton said he sees the Sanders case as one of the more visible examples of police conduct requiring action from him as chief.

"The vast majority of officers go out there every day and do the right thing. The ones that become very visible are ones like the Sanders case," he said. The public is "expecting department leadership to take a stand, and that's what I’m going to do.”

Mark Flakne of Keep Columbia Free, a local political action committee, said Monday that the "Chief Burton Needs to Resign" group along with the Columbia Police Officers Association and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, is working to "sully Chief Burton’s good name."

"The chief was hired to reform this department," Flakne said. "He was hired to clean up the mess that 20 years of bad leadership have created in this department."

Flakne said Sanders’ firing was the last straw for the "old guard" of officers in the ongoing debate over changes being made in the department. He said the petition is a "public relations ploy" that isn’t meaningful.

"It’s their way of putting the spotlight on the situation and trying to further hurt Chief Burton’s reputation," he said.

Lane said the group has other plans if the petition doesn’t get the results it wants.

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Mark Flakne November 21, 2011 | 2:04 p.m.

For more on Keep Columbia Free's support for Chief Burton, see the following blog post.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor November 21, 2011 | 2:36 p.m.


Trying to dig up 30 year old records to show a current inconsistency???

News Flash !!!

Things are not done the same way they were 30 years ago at my office either...

Change was needed. Need I remind you that we paid $300,000 to a guy who was improperly tazed off of an overpass and the dept's internal investigation didn't see anything wrong with that one either even though the tazing was in clear violation of the standards and protocols.

I suggest Sanders and Lane join the occupiers. Pity party out front of city hall! All whiners welcome !!!

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm November 21, 2011 | 3:02 p.m.

Chief Burton has the support of this tax paying citizen. As long as he keeps running scum bag cops like Sanders out of the department I will stand behind him.

Sanders and his cronies should be counting their blessings that Sanders was not arrested for assault like he should have been.

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton November 21, 2011 | 3:26 p.m.

Dear Sanders supporters: you need to acknowledge that the CPD's coffers are OUR money.

Next realize that employees like Sanders are a massive legal liability (see Mr. Mentor's comment above or footnote*): even if you can watch that video and defend that officer's actions, at some point you will be forced to admit that he is a walking lawsuit.

If you are pro-police, ask yourself: would you rather have one Officer Sanders getting sued for a million dollars (and subsidizing the tort industry), or a million dollars' worth of extra salary and equipment for the cops who don't do things like this?

Ask any business owner or manager--we are all stakeholders in this particular business--if they would retain someone after an incident like this, even if it was their own relative; they wouldn't.

So should we call for the head of that business owner or manager for taking what is obviously the correct course of action? If someone *IS* calling for his head, whose interest could they possibly be serving?

It's worth pointing out that hating unions is standard fare in modern politics. But, THE CPOA IS A UNION, TOO, and these are union tactics. Why should this union get a free pass from right-wing criticism?

Everyone really needs to take a close look at their position and determine exactly whose side they are on. Siding with Sanders is taking a side AGAINST the good cops. Siding against Burton is fighting against your own money, as well as common sense and good employment practice.

Don't let this me-first entity control the public discourse...or your thinking. If you're not with Chief Burton on this one, who exactly are you with?


(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle November 21, 2011 | 8:33 p.m.

I call for him to fire more of 'em! As often as I criticize police department operations, I'll be the first one to defend Burton on this one. What Sanders did was totally uncool.

The CPOA should be the first union to be busted up.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox November 22, 2011 | 7:30 p.m.

I have criticized Burton in the past but I believe I was wrong, I hope he stays.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock November 22, 2011 | 11:48 p.m.

I agree I really think the Chief is doing a good job. Nobody likes change and this is what it is about. CPD has a bad rap when compared to Boone County Sheriff’s Department. When certain people in the department go out on a limb in a situation that is a political loser for Columbia and the department they reduce their credibility. This 30yr thing is just a dumb move and really reduces their argument. Furthermore, the guy doesn't need to keep his dog and the fact that he thinks he is entitled to something that was paid for by our tax dollars is ridicules. There are thousands of Soldiers who are deployed and when we go outside of the wire we have rules to follow. We took an oath to follow the orders of those appointed over us for the entire period of enlistment. If CPD personal don’t like the rules then they can quite. Plan and simple. There are always more people who will fill in to take their position. The knowledge gap will not be so drastic if a certain percentage quite that the department cannot operate.

(Report Comment)
John Hardon November 23, 2011 | 11:55 p.m.

"He said the Sanders case was an example of such inconsistency and that he thought Burton should have changed policies the chief questioned before Sanders was fired."

And that's probably because the policies had stated that it was always alright to assault people in holding cells.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 13, 2011 | 3:33 p.m.

Unlike the county's sheriff position, our police chief is a hired job. He's not voted into office.
All these petitions do is give those who have a personal gripe to sound off and those who wish to counter their dissatisfaction of our newest police chief's approach to improving CPD an opportunity to express our support of his efforts.
I don't know if the officers' police association ever spoke with Chief Burton on the value of doing away with lock-up at the downtown precinct and bringing those in custody directly to the Prathersville county facility. It might minimize altercations with those taken into custody and give the officers' adrenaline a chance to subside.
Another approach might be to update our holding cells with padded walls and softer interiors, while having non-arresting officers interact with the accused perp.
Either way, the situation which sparked this firing controversy could have been avoided. For the good of the department, I personally can view Chief Burton's actions understandable.
At the same time, I hope he achieves his goal to attain accreditation from CALEA for this town's police department.

("The change is a part of a push by Police Chief Ken Burton to attain accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The Columbia Police Department is not currently accredited, nor has it ever been.")
("The primary cornerstones that comprise
The CALEA Difference and distinguish
CALEA from all other forms of public
safety accreditation are professionalism,
stewardship, integrity, diversity,
independence, continuous improvement,
objectivity, credibility, consistency,
knowledge, experience, accountability
and collaboration.")

(Report Comment)

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