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Johnson v. City of Shreveport

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

August 14, 2019

SKYLO JOHNSON Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
CITY OF SHREVEPORT AND ITS APPOINTING AUTHORITY AND THE SHREVEPORT MUNICIPAL FIRE AND POLICE CIVIL SERVICE BOARD Defendants

          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 599, 488-A Honorable Ramon Lafitte, Judge.

          PETTIETTE, ARMAND, DUNKELMAN, WOODLEY, BYRD & CROMWELL, L.L.P. By: Joseph S. Woodley Marshall L. Perkins Counsel for Defendants- Appellants, City of Shreveport and Its Appointing Authority

          RONALD MICIOTTO Counsel for Plaintiff- Appellee, Skylo Johnson

          BILLY R. CASEY Counsel for the Shreveport Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board

          Before PITMAN, COX, and STONE, JJ.

          PITMAN, J.

         The City of Shreveport and its Appointing Authority (collectively, "the City") appeal the ruling of the trial court which reviewed the Shreveport Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board's ("the Board") termination of Plaintiff Skylo Johnson from his position as a firefighter with the Shreveport Fire Department ("the SFD"). The trial court overturned the Board's decision and ordered Plaintiff's reinstatement, amending the penalty previously imposed from termination to ninety (90) days without pay and benefits. The City appeals the decision of the trial court. For the following reasons, we reverse.

         FACTS

         Plaintiff joined the SFD in October 2008. In January 2015, he committed an act of violence against Shirley Hall in front of a fire station. This act was witnessed by fellow firefighters. After the incident with Hall, he received a letter of reprimand from the SFD and was required to undergo anger management counseling. He claimed that he completed this counseling after a very short time.

         Despite completion of this counseling, Plaintiff attacked Tamika Lattin, his former girlfriend and mother of his children, at their home on November 1, 2015, causing her to have a black eye. She did not go to the police that day; however, when he attacked her again on November 3, 2015, and choked her, fearing for her life, she went to the Shreveport Police to report the incidents. The police observed that her left eye was completely swollen shut, and the surrounding area was black and blue. The police obtained a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest, and he was charged with domestic abuse battery and strangulation. Plaintiff never stood trial. Lattin recanted her statements and stated that her injuries were "accidental" and that the incident was "a disagreement and a minor altercation." She also stated that if Plaintiff lost his job and went to jail, it would cause a hardship on her family. The Caddo Parish district attorney allowed Plaintiff to enter into a pretrial diversion agreement whereby he would go to anger management and domestic abuse counseling. After he attended, the charges against him were dismissed.

         On December 3, 2015, the SFD Administration sent Plaintiff a letter of termination, which stated that on November 5, 2015, he had been informed of the commencement of an investigation surrounding possible violations of SFD Rules and Regulations; SFD Core Values; local and state civil service laws; and/or local, state and federal laws. The letter states:

On December 2, 2015, you admitted to going through Tamika's phone without her permission and becoming angry at what you saw. Further, you admitted striking her in the face and causing deformity to her face. Your actions in this incident and your previous incidents concerning domestic abuse both during employment and prior to employment do not reflect the core values of the Shreveport Fire Department. Those actions and behavior exhibited are not the expectations that the citizens of Shreveport expect from their public servants.

         The letter specified that the violations included SFD Rules and Regulations Article 1. Authority, Scope and Application, No. 3; Article XVI, General Rules, No. 2-Professional Knowledge and Skills; and La. R.S. 33:2500; the last of which provides that the appointing authority may remove any employee from the service for the commission or omission of any act to the prejudice of the departmental service or contrary to the public interest or policy; or conduct of a discourteous or wantonly offensive nature toward the public; or any dishonest, disgraceful or immoral conduct.

         Shreveport Police Department records, obtained in conjunction with the SFD Internal Affairs investigation in the matter, show that in 2006, Plaintiff was also charged with domestic abuse battery of Lattin. In July 2009, after he joined the SFD, he was charged with battery again after he and Lattin exchanged punches, indicating that Plaintiff had a history of domestic abuse even though he had avoided convictions for these offenses. Plaintiff's official "rap sheet," however, shows only two arrests, both of which occurred in 2015.

         After a predisciplinary conference, Chief Scott Wolverton of the SFD terminated Plaintiff's employment effective December 15, 2015.

         Plaintiff appealed his termination to the Board and argued that the SFD did not have good cause to terminate him. The Board held a hearing on March 8, 2017. Multiple witnesses testified, including Det. Shaunda Holmes, Chief Wolverton and Daniel Turner, a firefighter who witnessed the Hall altercation in front of Fire Station 7. For the defense, Plaintiff called Hall, his parents, his current girlfriend and two former coworkers to testify on his behalf. Lattin did not testify.

         Det. Holmes, who is employed by the Shreveport Police Department in the domestic violence unit, testified that on November 3, 2015, she went to 4225 Lakeshore Drive in Shreveport to investigate a reported domestic battery. When she arrived, she met Lattin and learned that Plaintiff was involved in the incident. She testified that she was already familiar with Plaintiff and Lattin since they "have a history of domestic abuse battery . . . and property damage."

         Det. Holmes further testified that Lattin told her that Plaintiff had attacked her on two separate days. On November 1, 2015, he pulled her off the couch and began hitting her about the body because he was upset about something he had seen on her cell phone. She did not call the police that day. On November 3, 2015, he grabbed her by the throat, choked her and battered her about the body. He also threw her clothes out of the house. She tried to leave, but he grabbed her by the hair to stop her; however, she was able to leave and went to the police to file a report. Photographs were taken of Lattin at the police station, which showed her with a very prominent black eye.

         Joshua McCollum, an internal affairs investigator for the SFD, testified that he investigated Plaintiff regarding the incident at issue in this case. He stated that although he tried to get Lattin to take part in the investigation, she never gave him a statement. He received and reviewed the Shreveport Police Department's narrative and supplements and also spoke to Det. Holmes. He testified that Plaintiff's version of the November 1, 2015 incident was that he found evidence on Lattin's phone that she was having a relationship with another man, and he began to move out. Lattin attacked him from behind, and "he blindly swung his arm around" and hit her, striking her in the face. Plaintiff also told him that he had to hold her down to stop her attacks. On November 3, 2015, Plaintiff claims Lattin began throwing his clothes to the floor, and he lost his temper and threw her clothes outside the apartment. Lattin left the apartment, and he went to a friend's house to stay. Plaintiff further told him that it was not ...


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