COLUMBIA — The Columbia Fraternal Order of Police called for the removal of Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton on Wednesday, alleging "numerous policy and city ordinance violations," several of which stem from Burton's handling of incidents such as the 2011 firing of patrol officer Rob Sanders.
The local police organization addressed a letter to Mayor Bob McDavid and City Manager Mike Matthes asking that Burton be relieved of his command. The letter was accompanied by a 349-page complaint that detailed grievances and the alleged violations.
The complaints against Burton allege problems with his command including issues of negativity, incompetence and the mishandling of internal investigations.
The "tipping point" was a recent radio appearance by Burton during "The Gary Nolan Show" on KSSZ/93.9 FM in Boonville, said Ashley Cuttle, executive director of the police organization.
During the program, Burton discussed a recent departmental review by independent consultant Eric Anderson, which found that morale among Burton's officers was "extraordinarily low." During the interview, Burton called members of his command staff "subversive," according to selective transcripts included in the police group's complaint.
Police department representatives could not be reached by email or telephone.
A portion of the complaint addresses the dissatisfaction among some police officers with the handling of the Sanders issue.
Sanders, an 18-year veteran of the Columbia Police Department, was fired in September after video surveillance of a cell prompted an internal affairs investigation that found Sanders' use of excessive force against a man in a holding cell to be in violation of city policies related to the treatment of prisoners.
Burton also refers to the use of force by Rob Sanders an “assault,” which became the source of one complaint.
According to the document, “Rob Sanders has not been convicted of any criminal law violation or even charged with such. We feel it is inappropriate for Chief Burton to make such statements related to Rob Sanders, considering no action has been taken by any Prosecutor’s Office in relation to the alleged crime that Chief Burton claims has occurred.”
The complaint continues, “As the Chief of Police, Chief Burton should not be making statements of guilt in relation to any criminal act until the issue is resolved through the proper channels."
An internal investigation cleared Sanders of all wrongdoing days before he was fired.
"Rob Sanders has not been convicted of any criminal law violation or even charged with such," the complaint states.
"We feel it is inappropriate for Chief Burton to make such statements related to Rob Sanders, considering no action has been taken by any Prosecutor's Office in relation to the alleged crime that Chief Burton claims has occurred."
Cuttle said the Sanders' incident was just one issue in a list of criticisms of the chief.
The organization met with Burton numerous times to discuss problems within the department, but "they continued to be ignored," Cuttle said. "We just don't think this is something we can fix."
She said about 140 of Columbia's 160 police officers are members of the Columbia Fraternal Order of Police. The organization's board of directors voted unanimously to call for Burton's removal, Cuttle said.
Burton was named police chief in February 2009. He previously served as chief of the Haltom City (Texas) Police Department.