The state law protecting police chiefs from removal without very specific cause has led to six years of litigation and a victory over his former city for a police chief removed for cause but without a hearing.
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that the City was required to hold a formal contested-case hearing before terminating the Chief. The City argued that, because the state law (Section 106.273 RSMo.) only stated that a city was to hold a “meeting” before terminating, they did not need to give a police chief a formal pre-termination hearing. The Western District Court of Appeals made it clear that a police chief removed under Section 106.273 is entitled to a hearing conducted in accordance with the “contested case procedures” of the Missouri Administrative Procedure Act as Section 106.273 created a “property interest” in a chief’s continued employment. Section 106.273.2 requires a pre-termination hearing “at which a ‘measure of procedural formality’ is followed.”
Before terminating a police chief, municipalities should be sure to provide a chief with a formal hearing with sworn testimony and the opportunity to call and cross-examine witnesses prior to any vote to terminate. In this case, the city’s failure to give a pre-termination hearing cost the city $300,000 in compensatory damages and nearly $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.