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Breland v. City of Hattiesburg

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 20, 2018

CLINT BRELAND APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/16/2017

          FORREST COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JON MARK WEATHERS TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DAVID C. FRAZIER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JAMES W. GLADDEN JR. MORAN M. POPE III

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., FAIR AND WILSON, JJ.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. This appeal stems from Clint Breland's termination of employment as a police officer by the City of Hattiesburg (City), which was upheld by the Hattiesburg Civil Service Commission (HCSC). The Forrest County Circuit Court affirmed the termination. Breland now appeals the Forrest County Circuit Court's ruling. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. In 2011, 34-year-old Breland made a traffic stop on 16-year-old Christan Damiens. Breland did not give Damiens a ticket for the moving violation but instead gave her a warning. Thereafter, they shared personal information, both in person and online. They began meeting often while Breland was on and off duty. Within two to four weeks of meeting, they began having a sexual relationship, which lasted six to eight months.

         ¶3. In response to his actions, Breland was terminated from his employment as a police officer on February 3, 2015, for allegedly violating provisions of the City's Administrative Operations Manual (AOM). Specifically, the City claimed he violated (1) Chapter 26.1.1, Subsection G: Truthfulness; (2) Chapter 26.1.l, Subsection Z: Leaving the City of Hattiesburg; (3) Chapter 26.1.2, Subsection A: Criminal Conduct; (4) Chapter 26.1.2, Subsection B: Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer; (5) Chapter 26.1.2, Subsection C: Neglect of Duty; and (6) Chapter 26.1.2, Subsection II: Abuse of City Time.

         ¶4. Breland appealed his termination to the HCSC, which upheld Breland's discharge for: (1) conduct unbecoming an officer, (2) neglect of duty, and (3) abuse of city time. He appealed to the circuit court, which found the HCSC's findings were within its purview. Breland has appealed the circuit court's decision to this Court.

         ¶5. Prior to Breland's discharge, Damiens and Breland were interviewed by Lieutenant Jon Traxler, a senior officer for internal affairs at the Hattiesburg Police Department. Lieutenant Traxler also gave Damiens and Breland a polygraph examination soon after questioning them. Breland's polygraph results indicated Breland to be "untruthful" during his examination.

         ¶6. After a broad internal investigation, Breland's eight-year employment with the Hattiesburg Police Department was terminated on February 3, 2015. Breland appealed to the HCSC. The HCSC held a hearing on December 14, 2015, and February 22, 2016, in which it considered all issues and violations associated with the termination of Breland's employment with the City Police Department.

         ¶7. In its March 7, 2016 decision, the HCSC upheld the City's decision to terminate Breland's employment and specifically found "the testimony of Miss[]Christan Damiens to be credible and uncontroverted after considering all of the testimony and evidence we have found that Officer Breland's conduct and behavior violated . . . section[s] of the AOM." The HCSC did not find the termination was for political or religious reasons and "that the level of punishment imposed was for cause and imposed in good faith."

         ¶8. Aggrieved, Breland perfected his appeal to the Forrest County Circuit Court, which upheld the decision of the ...


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