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Weeks v. City of Biloxi

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 23, 2017

RONALD WEEKS APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI AND ITS CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/10/2015

         HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. LAWRENCE PAUL BOURGEOIS JR. TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: ANDREW AUSTIN CLARK RUSSELL S. GILL

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: GERALD HENRY BLESSEY TERE R. STEEL DANIELLE BREWER JONES

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., CARLTON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          GRIFFIS, P.J.,

         ¶1. Ronald Weeks appeals his termination as a police officer for the City of Biloxi. The Biloxi Civil Service Commission found that the City acted in good faith when it terminated Weeks for cause. Weeks appealed the decision to the Harrison County Circuit Court, which affirmed the Commission's judgment. It is from this judgment that Weeks now appeals. We find no error and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Weeks was employed as a police officer with the City of Biloxi from April 29, 1991, until he was terminated on October 31, 2007.

         ¶3. Weeks's termination stemmed from the events that occurred shortly after his shift began on June 6, 2007. Immediately after the shift briefing, Weeks learned that his close friend had attempted suicide and was at Biloxi Regional Medical Center. Lieutenant Andrew Balius and Sergeant Michael Brumley, the shift supervisors, gave Weeks permission to leave work and go check on his friend's condition. While responding to an unrelated call at the hospital, Lt. Balius observed Weeks crying.

         ¶4. While Weeks was at the hospital, the dispatch center received several calls for service. Weeks was needed in his patrol area. After Weeks remained at the hospital for approximately two hours, Sgt. Brumley radioed and asked him to return to work. Weeks did not immediately return. Instead, he remained at the hospital, where he met with medical staff and discussed possible commitment to a psychiatric institution. Sgt. Brumley, the evening-shift patrol sergeant, went to the hospital and instructed Weeks to return to the police station immediately.

         ¶5. Once he returned to the station, Sgt. Brumley met with Weeks to discuss the amount of time that Weeks had spent at the hospital. Sgt. Brumley was alarmed by Weeks's behavior during the meeting. He drafted a narrative of the encounter. According to the narrative, Weeks had been visibly upset and emotional. Sgt. Brumley characterized Weeks's behavior as an "emotional tirade, " which he described as a range of mood swings that occurred in a short period of time. At one point during the meeting, Weeks became angry and blamed the doctors for his friend's bipolar diagnosis. Weeks also blamed a police investigator for his friend's suicide attempt.[1]

         ¶6. Sgt. Brumley further noted that Weeks's demeanor changed from offensive to an aggressive body posture. He testified that Weeks's tone had been angry and escalated at times. He also testified that Weeks cried and used profanity when he discussed his anger toward a fellow officer. Sgt. Brumley noted Weeks's explanation that he had "white knight syndrome" and always wanted to help people.

         ¶7. According to Sgt. Brumley, Weeks had been too emotionally distraught to return to work. He did not believe that Weeks could put his friend's suicide attempt aside and focus on the job as he patrolled the streets. Sgt. Brumley testified that he had never seen an officer behave so emotionally. The behavior caused Sgt. Brumley to question Weeks's fitness for duty. Sgt. Brumley was especially concerned that Weeks was not a relative, yet he discussed the patient's medical information. According to Sgt. Brumley, police officers are not permitted to discuss confidential information regarding patients. Sgt. Brumley was also alarmed that Weeks blamed the police department's investigation for his friend's suicide attempt. Sgt. Brumley testified that he felt that Weeks's relationship with his friend coupled with his mental state could cause a liability issue for the City. As a result of Sgt. Brumley's concerns, Weeks was sent home for the remainder of the day and instructed not to return to the hospital in his uniform. Sgt. Brumley's documentation was forwarded up the chain of command.

         ¶8. Assistant Chief Rodney McGilvary and the director of the Biloxi Police Department, Bruce Dunagan, received the documentation. Asst. Chief McGilvary and Director Dunagan conducted a review of Weeks's personnel file. They determined that Weeks's recent behavior, coupled with numerous complaints made against him, raised "red flags." The personnel file contained at least five complaints made against Weeks between November 1996 and April 2007. In each instance Weeks had been accused of exhibiting poor judgment when dealing with women. For his behavior, Weeks had received disciplinary actions including verbal counseling, three no-contact orders against him, a five-day suspension, and demotion from sergeant to patrol.

         ¶9. Asst. Chief McGilvary testified that all of the complaints against Weeks had been made by women. He also testified that a prior fitness-for-duty evaluation indicated that Weeks had moved from a low risk to a moderate risk for possible employment problems. The previous evaluation also concluded that without intervention Weeks would likely advance to a high-risk classification.

         ¶10. Asst. Chief McGilvary and Director Dunagan then found it necessary to request a psychological evaluation to ascertain Weeks's continued fitness for duty. Director Dunagan consulted human resources for assistance with the matter. Director Dunagan testified that he met with Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and briefed him about Weeks's situation. Mayor Holloway approved Director Dunagan's request to send Weeks for a fitness-for-duty examination.

         ¶11. Weeks was notified that he would undergo a fitness-for-duty exam on June 12, 2007. Dr. Julie Teaters, clinical psychologist, concluded that Weeks was unfit for duty as a police officer. The psychological-fitness-for-duty report provided:

Mr. Weeks appears to have a behavior pattern that involves his actions with women at work as well as away from work. The recent incident in April suggests that he has not changed his behavior toward women that was noted in previous complaints. His actions in June also raise concerns that he violated a hospital patient's privacy regarding the status of her health. Both of the incidents suggest the abuse of his position of power as a police officer. . . . Mr. Weeks does appear to have a continuing problem with his judgment. It is reasonable that this problem will continue to lead to his inability to perform his essential job functions. Based on his long history of poor judgment (particularly involving women) it is felt that Mr. Weeks is NOT FIT FOR DUTY. Due to the lengthy history of repeated poor judgment it is felt that further efforts to correct his problem are likely to be ineffective.

         ¶12. In a letter, dated June 19, 2007, Director Dunagan informed Weeks that Dr. Teater found him unfit for duty. Consequently, Weeks remained on paid administrative leave from work. Director Dunagan requested that Weeks provide Dr. Teater with psychological and/or psychiatric records from his primary treatment provider. In response to this request, Weeks's primary-care physician, Dr. W.R. Fellows, submitted a letter to human resources. Dr. Fellows noted that Weeks's medical problems had been treated with medication and were under control. Dr. Fellows further opined that nothing in the health of Weeks prevented him from fulfilling his duties as a Biloxi police officer.

         ¶13. After a review of Dr. Fellows's records, Dr. Teater made no changes to her previous recommendation. In an addendum, Dr. Teater opined that Weeks appeared to have a continuing problem with his judgment, which she predicted would lead to an inability to perform his essential job functions. Due to the conflict of the two opinions, Mayor Holloway requested a third opinion. Weeks was sent to Dr. Mark Webb for a second fitness-for-duty exam. On August 16, 2007, Dr. ...


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