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Chavis v. Jackson County Sheriff's Department

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 14, 2019

JACOB CHAVIS APPELLANT
v.
JACKSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/07/2018

          JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. KOSTA N. VLAHOS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: RUSSELL S. GILL JOSEPH RICHARD TRAMUTA

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: H. BENJAMIN MULLEN

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND McDONALD, JJ.

          WESTBROOKS, J.

         ¶1. Jacob Chavis appeals the Jackson County Circuit Court's judgment affirming the Jackson County Sheriff's Department Civil Service Commission's decision to uphold Chavis's termination from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. After review of the record, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On October 19, 2015, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department (JCSO) terminated Chavis after determining he was in violation of JCSO Policy 4.24, which controls when a deputy may make an off-duty arrest. On the day before his termination, October 18, 2015, Chavis was off-duty and traveling with his wife and minor child from Georgia to their home in Mississippi. During his Commission hearing, Chavis testified that he first noticed a reckless driver while in Alabama on Interstate 10. He stated that he later saw the same driver near Exit 50 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, when the driver turned across three lanes of traffic toward the exit ramp and nearly collided with Chavis's vehicle.

         ¶3. Chavis stated that he immediately called the JCSO's non-emergency number to report the driver and followed the vehicle for less than a mile to obtain a license plate number and description of the driver to provide to the dispatch officer. When Chavis pulled up next to the driver, later identified as Tammy Hewitt, to obtain a description, Hewitt noticed him observing her. Chavis testified at that point Hewitt became belligerent and started to scream and cuss at him. Chavis stated that he rolled down his passenger window to inform Hewitt that law enforcement officers were on their way and she should leave him alone.

         ¶4. Chavis said that Hewitt continued to harass him at the red light, and at that point he showed her his badge and stated she needed to move along. Chavis stated that once the light turned green he lost sight of Hewitt in the traffic but pulled into a parking lot to look for her passing. While in the parking lot, Chavis stated that Hewitt also turned into the lot and pulled up next to him. Chavis further testified that he crossed the street to prevent a confrontation and came in contact with Lieutenant Robert Blocker. He stated he informed Blocker that Hewitt was across the street and Blocker instructed Chavis to go home, which he did.

         ¶5. According to Blocker, Hewitt told him that Chavis intimidated her into pulling over by following her and flashing his badge. She also stated that she was going to file a formal complaint with the Sheriff's Department regarding Chavis's behavior the next day.

         ¶6. The next morning when Chavis arrived to work, Major Ray Bates inquired of the events of the previous day and informed Chavis he could either resign or be fired. Chavis stated that he did nothing improper and received a notice of termination the same day. The notice stated that Chavis was being terminated immediately because he violated department Policy 4.24 and had been previously reprimanded for the same policy violation on January 21, 2015.

         ¶7. Days later, on October 26, 2015, Chavis appealed his termination to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department Civil Service Commission (Commission). On August 24, 2016, the Commission held a termination hearing and ultimately upheld his termination. In September 2016 the Commission issued findings of facts, and Chavis subsequently appealed the decision to the Jackson County Circuit Court. On October 30, 2017, counsel for both parties presented oral arguments to the circuit court. The circuit court affirmed the decision of the Commission, and Chavis now appeals to this Court.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶8. "In an administrative agency appeal, the standard of review applied by this Court is identical to that of the circuit court." Siggers v. Epps, 962 So.2d 78, 80 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). "This Court cannot disturb the decision of an administrative agency, here the [Commission], unless the decision was unsupported by substantial evidence, was arbitrary or capricious, was beyond the agency's scope or powers or violated the constitutional or statutory rights of the aggrieved party." Id. Furthermore, "[t]his Court is not to determine issues of fact regarding whether an employee was guilty of the charge or not, but should only determine ...


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