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Gary Police Civil Service Commission v. City of Gary

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 28, 2019

Gary Police Civil Service Commission, Appellant-Respondent,
v.
City of Gary, Appellee-Petitioner.

          Appeal from the Lake Circuit Court The Honorable Marissa McDermott, Judge The Honorable Alice A. Kuzemka, Temporary Judge Trial Court Cause No. 45C01-1707-MI-221

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Rinzer Williams, III Gary, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Rodney Pol, Jr. Assistant City Attorney Gary, Indiana

          SHEPARD, SENIOR JUDGE.

         [¶1] Police officers were following the trail of a suspect in the aftermath of a double homicide, and a K-9 unit led them to the home of a reserve police officer. He refused to open his door and later failed to cooperate with an internal affairs investigation. Was the police force justified in terminating his reserve status? The Gary Police Civil Service Commission said no and ordered the City of Gary to reinstate Reserve Officer Lamarquist Pritchett. The trial court reversed the Commission. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Issues

         [¶2] The Commission raises two issues:

         I. Whether the trial court committed reversible error in declining to defer to the Commission's findings; and

         II. Whether the trial court erred in reversing the Commission's decision that Pritchett should be reinstated.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Pritchett was a reserve police officer with the Gary Police Department (GPD) and lived in Gary. He had been a reserve officer for six years. On the night of October 21, 2016, a double homicide occurred. Several GPD officers used a K-9 unit to follow a scent trail from the scene. As the officers walked with the K-9, they saw a man, later identified as Pritchett, wearing a police uniform while standing in the doorway of a house. As the officers approached, Pritchett retreated inside the house and shut the door.

         [¶4] The K-9 followed the scent to the house and alerted at the front door. The officers knocked on the door for five minutes, but no one answered. They next went to a neighboring house, where the K-9 also alerted. The resident of that house allowed the officers to enter and search, but they did not find any suspects.

         [¶5] The officers returned to Pritchett's house, where they received orders to wait for a homicide detective. As they waited, they saw lights being turned on and off inside the residence. The detectives arrived and knocked on the door, but Pritchett did not respond.

         [¶6] One of the detectives contacted Pritchett by telephone the next day. Pritchett admitted he had been at home the previous evening and had not answered the door for the officers. When asked why he had failed to respond, Pritchett explained he was behind on child support and thought that the officers were there to serve a child support warrant on him. He also said he had been arguing with his girlfriend, and he "wasn't in the right state of mind to come to the door." Appellee's App. Vol. II, p. 19.

         [¶7] Sergeant Justin Illyes of the GPD's internal affairs division was assigned to investigate Pritchett's failure to cooperate with the officers. The sergeant and Pritchett spoke by telephone and scheduled an in-person meeting for the morning of November 7, 2016. During a telephone call before the meeting, Pritchett indicated that his attorney had told him not to speak with anyone about the matter. Sergeant Illyes advised Pritchett that Pritchett was required by GPD rules and regulations to speak with him, and failure to comply could result in disciplinary action. Pritchett indicated he would be present.

         [¶8] Pritchett did not appear for the November 7 meeting at the scheduled time. Later, Pritchett and his attorney called Sergeant Illyes to reschedule the meeting for a time when his attorney could be present. Sergeant Illyes indicated that attorneys "are not involved" in internal affairs ...


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