Fired Columbia Police officer Rob Sanders files for judicial review

Monday, February 3, 2014 | 8:23 p.m. CST; updated 9:13 p.m. CST, Monday, February 3, 2014

COLUMBIA — Former Columbia Police officer Rob Sanders is asking a Cole County judge to review his firing by Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton and City Manager Mike Matthes' decision not to reinstate him.

Sanders was fired in September 2011 after more than 18 years of service following an incident one month earlier involving Kenneth Baker, who was injured after Sanders shoved him against the wall of a holding cell. The altercation was caught on camera, and the Internal Affairs Division of the police department investigated. The division eventually determined that Sanders acted within the department's policies.

The petition, filed on Jan. 24, alleges that while Sanders' four immediate superiors stood by the former officer's actions, Burton "unilaterally determined" that Sanders' actions were grounds for termination. 

Sanders filed for a personnel advisory board hearing, challenging Burton's right to fire him. The board upheld Burton's position, and the city manager later backed the board and the police chief. Sanders' petition alleges that Matthes has refused to provide Sanders or his attorney with a copy of the board's decision.

"Every ounce of testimony in that hearing said (Sanders) did exactly what he was supposed to do," said Scott Jansen, Sanders' attorney. "And he got fired for it."

Sanders was acquitted in October on a third-degree assault charge in the incident that led to his eventual firing.

It could be as long as two months until oral arguments are made before a judge, as Sanders and the City of Columbia have time to submit briefs of their arguments to Judge Patricia Joyce of the Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City. Joyce has the power to overturn Sanders' firing and reinstate him, Jansen said. 

Jansen also filed a motion asking that portions of Sanders' personnel file be redacted when the city files it in the case, "specifically, quotations and summaries of prior discipline and performance reviews. Not a single one of these items was specifically referenced, quoted or admitted as an exhibit at the hearing (they were merely generally referenced as having been reviewed)."

"I don't think my client has to reveal his personnel file to the world in order to get judicial review on his termination," Jansen said.

Neither Burton, Matthes or City Counselor Nancy Thompson immediately returned calls for comment.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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