Tenn. Court Rules for Ex-Cop in Ticket-Fixing Case

     (CN) – The evidence shows that a Tennessee city fired a cop solely for reporting that the city’s police chief forced him to “fix” his stepson’s traffic tickets, the state’s highest court ruled this week.
     Larry Williams, former captain detective for the City of Burns, Tenn. police department, was second in command to Police Chief Jerry Sumerour beginning in 2007, according to the ruling.
     In March 2008, one day after the police department approved a policy against “ticket fixing,” Williams pulled over a speeding car and the driver turned out to be Sumerour’s 16-year-old stepson. Sumerour and his wife, the stepson’s mother, lived close by and came to the scene after Williams called them.
     “As Captain Williams was writing Cody’s traffic citations, Chief Sumerour’s wife became upset and protested loudly that Chief Sumerour should not permit Captain Williams to give her son a ticket,” the ruling states. “Eventually, Chief Sumerour and his wife returned to their vehicle and left the scene. Captain Williams issued Cody two traffic citations, one for speeding and the other for reckless driving.”
     Later that night, however, Sumerour called Williams to his home and asked him to bring the traffic tickets, according to the ruling. Sumerour allegedly pressured Williams into changing the tickets to warnings.
     The next day, Williams reported to City of Burns Mayor Jeff Bishop that Sumerour had pressured him into “fixing” traffic tickets for his stepson. Bishop said Sumerour had briefed him on the situation and “offered no further response,” the ruling states.
     Sumerour wrote up Williams a few days later for going outside the police department’s chain of command. Meanwhile, the mayor ordered Sumerour to change the warnings back to citations.
     Williams was fired by Sumerour the next month for alleged insubordination, according to the ruling. Williams sued and the trial court ruled in favor of the city, finding that Williams did not prove that the only reason he was fired was for reporting the ticket-fixing incident. Williams appealed.
     An appeals court reversed the trial court’s ruling but, on remand, the trial court once again ruled in the city’s favor. Williams again appealed, and for a second time the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision.
     On Monday, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in Williams’ favor, holding that evidence shows the sole reason he was fired was for reporting and complaining about the ticket-fixing.
     “Considering the aggregate weight of the evidence in the record, we conclude that the evidence clearly preponderates in favor of a finding that the city’s proffered non-retaliatory reasons for discharging Captain Williams are pretextual, and that the sole reason for Captain Williams’ discharge was retaliation for his refusal to participate in and remain silent about the chief’s illegal activities,” Justice Holly Kirby wrote.
     The state supreme court noted that Williams had never been disciplined by Sumerour before and was fired less than three weeks after the ticket-fixing incident. It remanded the case to the trial court to enter a judgment in favor of Williams.
     Burns, Tenn. has a population of 1,468 as of the 2010 U.S. Census, according to government data.
     A request for comment from the city’s attorney was not immediately returned.

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