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Hawkins v. City of Bossier

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 11, 2017

LARRY HAWKINS Plaintiff-Appellant

         Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 137, 252 Honorable Jeff Cox, Judge

          WEEMS, SCHIMPF, HAINES, ET AL. By: Kenneth Patrick Haines Counsel for Appellant.

          BREEDLOVE LAW FIRM By: Pamela Breedlove KEAN MILLER, LLP By: Michael Lowe Counsel for Appellee.

          Before WILLIAMS, MOORE and STONE, JJ.

          MOORE, J.

         Larry Hawkins appeals a judgment of the 26th Judicial District Court which affirmed a decision of the Bossier City Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board ("the Board") to terminate Hawkins from the Bossier City Police Department ("BCPD") for failing to have an abandoned car towed from the right-hand lane of Walker Road at Arthur Ray Teague Parkway. Finding no abuse of discretion or denial of due process, we affirm.

         Factual Background and Prior Appeal

         Around 1:00 pm on June 9, 2011, Sgt. Benjamin England was driving to BCPD to conduct a shift meeting at 2:00 pm. Coming down Walker Road toward Arthur Ray Teague Parkway, he saw an elderly African American man walking east on Walker Road. The man motioned back toward the parkway. Sgt. England then saw a Dodge Caliber stopped in the right-hand lane of Walker Road. Concerned that southbound traffic turning left off the parkway onto Walker Road might hit the car, Sgt. England called dispatch to report a stalled vehicle. The dispatcher told him someone would be sent, so Sgt. England proceeded to his shift meeting.

         At 1:05 pm, Cpl. Hawkins, an 18-year veteran of BCPD, responded to the call about a stalled or abandoned vehicle and the elderly man walking away from it. Cpl. Hawkins got there about 1:20 pm, finding a Dodge Caliber with a flat tire parked in the outside travel lane of Walker Road. He ran the tag number on the Thinkstream system and found the car belonged to an elderly man. Cpl. Hawkins drove to the nearest business, a bank, to see if the owner had come in to seek assistance; he had not. Cpl. Hawkins returned to the Dodge and activated his dashcam to document the abandoned car and the "extremely light" traffic. He did not deem it an immediate traffic hazard for that time of day, so he did not call to have it towed.

         About this time, Cpl. Wayne Benjamin, who had heard the call, came to the scene to see if Cpl. Hawkins needed help. He promptly told Cpl. Hawkins that he (Hawkins) needed to get the car towed. Because he did not think this was necessary, Cpl. Hawkins called his superior, Sgt. Jeff Gaydos, for advice. Sgt. Gaydos later testified that based on information provided by Sgt. Hawkins, he thought the car was completely off the road. He asked three questions: was the car (1) a road hazard, (2) blocking traffic, or (3) a vision obscurement to other traffic; Cpl. Hawkins replied "no" to each question, so Sgt. Gaydos told him to leave it. Cpl. Hawkins did so, and left the scene about 1:30 pm.

         However, a still image from Sgt. Hawkins's dashcam, admitted as Ex. C-5, shows the Dodge completely on the travel surface, the right wheels perhaps 4-6 inches from the curb. Around 2:30 pm, another officer, Keith Hardin, drove by and immediately had the car towed.

         The next day, BCPD filed a complaint against Cpl. Hawkins on grounds that he did nothing to remove the car from the roadway when it was clearly blocking one lane of traffic. He received an "Internal Investigation Warning" on June 15, and notice of a predisciplinary hearing on June 20.

         The five members of the predisciplinary panel unanimously sustained the complaint and recommended termination.[1] On July 18, the mayor and chief of police formally notified Cpl. Hawkins that because he failed to "take appropriate action" to remove an abandoned car that was "reasonably deemed a traffic hazard" under Gen. Order 05-10, he was terminated immediately.[2]

         Cpl. Hawkins then filed an appeal to the Board, which held a hearing on September 21. Six witnesses testified, including Chief Patrick McWilliams, who felt that Cpl. Hawkins's conduct detracted from the efficient and orderly operation of the department, wasted manpower and exposed BCPD to liability if another motorist had rammed into the abandoned car. The chief also described Cpl. Hawkins's history of dereliction of duty dating from 1994, including a 30-day suspension in 1998 and a demotion to corporal in January 2011, just months before this incident; an officer with a clean record would not be terminated for merely failing to tow. He testified that Ofc. England, who also failed to tow the Dodge, received only a "letter of documentation" (and a 30-day suspension without pay); he had four prior suspensions, but none for ...

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