Former police officer Rob Sanders will have to wait at least another 75 days for a verdict in his lawsuit, which alleges his firing for use of excessive force was unfounded.
Judge Dennis Rolf of the circuit court for Lafayette and Saline counties will receive a brief from Sanders’ attorney within the next 30 days that include the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The City of Columbia will submit its brief in the following 30 days, after which Sanders’ lawyer will have an additional 15 days to submit any more information.
The judge then will decide whether to reinstate Sanders as a police officer, as requested in the suit.
On the third and final day of court proceedings Friday, City Manager Mike Matthes took the stand for more than three hours. Matthes had the final say in Sanders’ firing, and his decision was “not subject to further administrative appeal.”
Rob Sanders was fired from the police department in 2011 for using excessive force on Kenneth Baker while in police custody. He shoved Baker into the back wall of his cell, causing a laceration on his head and fracturing his vertebrae.
Matthes said that truthfulness in a police officer is one of the “most important attributes,” and inconsistencies in Sander’s story as told to the Internal Affairs Unit caused Matthes to report that Sanders “lacked truthfulness.” Sanders told the unit Baker was bending forward at the time of the push in a sort of football stance, but the video showed Baker standing up straight for about four seconds.
The Internal Affairs Unit’s investigation found the claim of excessive force to be unfounded and that Sanders was acting within department policy. But Police Chief Ken Burton decided to fire him.
Sanders then appealed the decision, which meant the Personnel Advisory Board, made up of citizens appointed by the city council, would hold a trial and bring a recommendation to Matthes.
The transcriptions from the trial were over 700 pages long, and Matthes said he read every page. A detailed list of Sanders’ four previous suspensions and 13 previous disciplinary citations included in the transcript left Matthes “shocked,” because the number and nature of transgressions were “significantly more than normal.”
Sanders’ previous citations showed a similar type of lapse in judgement, Matthes said.
He also said that the decision to use force on Baker was not a “rapidly evolving, split-second decision,” as Sanders testified during yesterday’s hearing.
Baker was already in custody when he began pounding on his cell door, asking for water.
The police department does not have a policy requiring officers to handcuff inmates who are banging on cell doors, but Sanders and other officers testified that they were trained to do so and that it was the standard.
Most officers initially gave the inmates a warning to stop pounding on the door, which Sanders did.
If the inmate continued, Sanders said officers were trained to instruct the inmate to sit by the back wall in order to be handcuffed, and if the inmate did not comply, force was to be used.
When Sanders instructed Baker to sit near the back wall, Baker did not comply. Sanders then opened the door with two officers behind him and pushed Baker back so the other officers could handcuff him. Matthes confirmed that refusing to comply with an officer’s verbal commands qualifies as resisting.
Both Burton and Matthes said that because the suspect was contained in the cell, Sanders should have planned his use of force with other officers before entering. But Sanders said the plan was ever-evolving and that he relied on his training.
Regardless of the training, Matthes said, “the level of force that was used was not necessary.”
Following the court proceedings, Sanders said he was “surprised” when Baker hit the back wall and that he thought Baker would have just fallen to the floor.
He also said one of the reasons he has pursued the case for so long is because “the majority of this deals with my name.”
The judge and both parties agreed that closing statements were unnecessary because the facts and evidence have all been clearly presented. All evidence has been collected, and the judge will begin deliberation after the 75-day period.