Rob Sanders

Rob Sanders provides testimony during a hearing in October 2015 about his job status with the Columbia Police Department.

A Missouri appellate court Tuesday upheld the legality of the termination of a former Columbia police officer after he injured a prisoner in 2011.

The Missouri Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision affirmed a May 2018 trial court ruling that former City Manager Mike Matthes acted within his authority in upholding the firing of former officer Rob Sanders, and that Sanders violated the city’s use of force policy when he shoved Kenneth Baker against the wall of a holding cell.

Former Police Chief Ken Burton, who resigned in 2018, fired Sanders after the incident, in which Baker suffered a compression fracture to his vertebra. An Internal Affairs investigation concluded that Sanders had acted within department policy in his actions toward the prisoner. Sanders had been suspended four times and faced 13 disciplinary citations in his time as an officer, which Burton said played a part in his decision to fire him.

Matthes, who resigned a month prior to Burton, upheld Burton’s decision to fire Sanders after internal review by the City’s Personnel Advisory Board. Officers criticized both Matthes and Burton for their handling of Sanders’ termination.

Sanders later sued the city, seeking reinstatement as an officer with full pay and benefits. A Boone County Circuit Court judge rejected his lawsuit in 2019, which led to the appeal by Sanders that was ruled on Tuesday.

His appeal — the latest turn in a legal battle that spanned over eight years and cost the city over a quarter of a million dollars — argued that his case was improperly viewed by the circuit court judge. The appellate court’s opinion, written by Judge Cynthia Martin, denied the appeal, and stated that new evidence and findings were presented in the 2018 trial.

  • Galen Bacharier is a former assistant city editor and reporter at the Missourian. He covered higher education, state government and breaking news.

  • Fred Anklam manages city and county government reporters. He can be reached at anklamf@missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 573-882-5720.

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