Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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June 5, 2014

Fired Flatwoods police chief appeals termination

GREENUP — As anticipated, ousted Flatwoods Police Chief Kraig Hankins on Thursday filed a lawsuit in Greenup Circuit Court appealing his termination.

Among other allegations, Hankins claims in the suit the city council voted fired him in spite of “numerous procedural defects in the disciplinary process, prejudicial pre-hearing publicity and the lack of credible evidence.”

Additionally, Hankins alleges he was never presented with a copy of the formal charges against him, indicating they were never filed with the city clerk, as required by law; that he has never given proper notice of the May 10 hearing that led to his firing; and that he was unable to attend the hearing because Mayor Bobby Crager had previously barred him from the city building under threat of arrest and the ban was not lifted by the time of the hearing.

The complaint also alleges Crager, who is stepping down as mayor at the end of the year, “went so far as to lobby the members of the ... city council for their votes prior to the hearing.”

The city council’s vote to dismiss Hankins, who had previously been on paid suspension, was unanimous and came at the end of a two-hour hearing that took place in executive session. Neither Hankins nor his lead attorney, Kenneth Reed of Ludlow, were present. The charges that led to his termination included insubordination, inefficiency, conduct unbecoming a police officer and violation of the city’s personnel policy. The council found Hankins guilty of all the charges.

Hankins assumed command of the police department on Aug. 1, 2012, the date his predecessor Tom Haynes’ retirement became effective. The city council voted to hire the retired Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives senior agent, who was the choice of both Crager and the committee appointed to search for Haynes’ successor.

Last week, a deeply divided council voted to hire Haynes out of retirement to serve as interim police chief. Only two council members actually voted in favor of the move, with three abstaining.

Hankins’ complaint also alleges his right to have the charges against him investigated by acting Chief R.B. Reed was denied by Crager, who conducted the investigation himself “in a biased and wholly unfair manner” and in violation of the city’s own ordinances and state law.

The suit also claims Hankins was unable to properly defend himself because of the vagueness of the charges and because doing so would have required him to disclose information regarding “ongoing criminal investigations.”

Not only would doing so have violated state law and city ordinances, but Hankins “was specifically instructed by the Kentucky State Police and federal authorities to disclose neither the subject matter of the investigations nor any witnesses,” the suit states.

Hankins filed a separate suit in Greenup Circuit Court seeking to enjoin the council from holding the hearing until after the investigations were complete, according to the complaint. However, Judge Bob Conley disqualified himself from hearing the case without ruling on that request or on a motion to permanently seal the case record.

Hankins is seeking reinstatement to his position, compensatory damages, court costs and attorney fees. The suit also requests a bench trial and a transcript of the disciplinary hearing.

Claims made in civil lawsuits state only one side of an issue. Under the law, the defendants have 20 days from the date they are served to respond to the allegations.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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