Milton Perry, Oak Grove’s former police chief, believes the city violated his state and federal rights when Mayor Dan Potter fired him in March.
At the time, Potter cited “ongoing leadership issues” and said Perry had jeopardized the police department’s liability insurance coverage for the second time in three years.
However, in the letter he gave Perry on March 28, which announced Perry’s immediate termination, Potter did not provide any reason.
State law requires that when any police officer faces a charge of violating a rule or regulation, his superiors must explain the charge in writing, with enough detail to let the officer defend himself.
Perry also said the city violated his rights by failing to give him a hearing before firing him and by announcing his firing to local media immediately after it occurred.
Perry and his attorney, Todd Barsumian, who practices in Evansville, Ind., filed a legal complaint on Aug. 5 at the federal courthouse in Paducah. They asked for an unspecified amount of financial compensation for breaches of Perry’s rights.
Perry joined the force in April of 1989 and became chief in January 1993, City Clerk Evelyn McDaniel said.
Potter suspended Perry in November after he learned Kentucky State Police were investigating Perry. According to KSP documents the New Era later obtained through an open records request, one of Perry’s subordinates — Les Langdon, who is now the department chief — had accused Perry of stealing city property.
KSP submitted the case to a grand jury in January. The grand jury declared the evidence insufficient to indict Perry, and it cleared him of the charges. Potter reinstated Perry a few days later.
Still, Perry said Potter failed to explain the reason for the suspension. The letter in which Potter announced the suspension is now available in the court file, and it mentions the KSP investigation but does not summarize the accusations against Perry.
Potter offered Perry the chance to request a hearing, in which he could present evidence in his own defense. Perry blames the city for not giving him such a hearing, but Perry does not say in his legal complaint whether he ever requested a hearing.
Less than three months after he reinstated Perry, Potter fired Perry for apparently unrelated reasons.
Again, his letter to Perry does not provide any reason, but Potter told the New Era his decision related to the police department’s insurance.
In 2008, the Kentucky League of Cities refused to renew the department’s insurance because of several factors related to the potential of financial losses. Several residents had sued the department in the years leading to KLC’s decision.
The city signed a contract with a private national company, EMC Insurance.
But at least three people have sued the Oak Grove Police Department since the city signed the new policy. In a news release the city issued after Perry’s termination, Potter said the current policy was in danger, due to the police leadership coming under “extreme scrutiny.”
Perry believes the city violated his rights again: by failing to explain the charges against him, failing to grant him a hearing and prematurely announcing his termination to local media.
In his lawsuit, Perry asked for several kinds of legal damages, including punitive damages, plus his attorney’s fees.
Unless the city applies for an extension, it must file a response to Perry’s complaint by early September. Attorneys can then start exchanging information, then decide whether they want to settle the case or go to trial.
Jason Holland, Oak Grove’s attorney, declined all comment. The New Era could not reach Potter by phone this morning.
Reach Nick Tabor at 270-887-3231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.