By ELIZABETH SINCLAIR
On Jan. 3, the DeFuniak Springs City Council held a special meeting to consider a partial remedy in the matter of two terminated police officers, Anthony Kaiser and Rick Boblitt.
Interim City Manager Tilman Mears in a written statement requested: “I would like to recommend council approval to allow me to have our labor attorney (Glenn Thomas) submit a settlement offer to Mr. Anthony Kaiser’s attorney. The settlement offer would include reinstatement to his former Sergeant position with the police department, half his retroactive salary and full reinstatement of health and retirement benefits, with an agreement to not further pursue any litigation with the City of DeFuniak Springs regarding matters relating to his current PBA (Police Benevolent Association) grievances.”
City Attorney Clayton Adkinson concurred with the recommendation. City Marshal Mark Weeks spoke opposing any reinstatement calling it “out of the question” and stating that the officer who brought the complaint still worked for the agency. In discussion Councilman Ron Kelley noted that there was a lot of gray area and inconsistencies in the matter. The council voted three aye, Ron Kelley, Janie Griffith and Henry Ennis; two nay, Mac Carpenter and Kermit Wright. Wright stated “Let the arbitrator do their job.”
Arbitration witness testimony, which was conducted over two days at the end of October, began again and finished up Jan. 9.
DeFuniak Springs Officer Boblitt and his shift supervisor Sgt. Kaiser were terminated by City Marshal Mark Weeks after an internal investigation. Boblitt for verbal racial harassment directed toward co-worker and officer Chuwan Boros. The allegations are slurs regarding Boros’ Asian background. Kaiser was terminated for inaction as a supervisor and being present when some remarks were made. The terminations occurred in early June 2015. Boblitt had around 16 years on the force and Kaiser had five. Both were reinstated in July pending a hearing on the matter.
Whether or not the remarks by Boblitt were jokes between friends and Boros reciprocating in kind to Boblitt are, in large part, at the core of the termination and if this form of humor is a coping mechanism between officers. Political motives were also alleged when the terminations came in the same time period as the City Marshal elections and support for and against Weeks may have been a factor. Weeks’ alleged dislike for the PBA was brought up as well.
The parties were unable to resolve the matter through mediation.
On Oct. 26 arbitration began in the council chambers. Independent arbitrator Jeanne Charles Wood monitored the proceedings. After reviewing the lists of witnesses and evidence exhibits, both sides gave their opening statements and summaries of their positions.
Glenn Thomas, labor attorney for the city, stated that the harassment of Boros was “severe and repetitive” and was not banter or joking. The city had just cause for the termination of Boblitt and Kaiser. Stephen Webster was the attorney for Kaiser and Stephanie Webster represented Boblitt.
Stephen Webster stated in his opening that the complaint wasn’t valid and, even if it was, city policy was not clear as how to deal with this situation. He said that the alleged harassment, according to Boros, had been going on for about four years. Policy stated that the harassment should have been reported promptly. No one had reported it in a timely manner. He cited an incident at a birthday party for Boblitt where, in front of a number of people, there was mutual banter between Boros and Boblitt.
Webster questioned Boros’ credibility. According to Webster, Boros had been terminated from the Walton County Sheriff’s Department and had been disciplined there for beating a detainee. Webster continued his side by saying that in late 2014, prior to the April 2015 election date for the City Marshal position, Boblitt backed Chief Weeks’ opponent and, in part because of his advice, the PBA donated $1,000 to the opponent. On the other hand, Boros had donated $400 to Weeks’ reelection and didn’t disclose the fact when asked by the PBA representative.
Following the October openings were a day and a half of witnesses statements including Weeks, Boros and Bowers and reams of evidence.
On Jan. 9, eleven witnesses called by the Websters testified including Kaiser and Boblitt. Two DeFuniak residents testified alleging Boros’ lack of professionalism, including an unlawful arrest where a judge found no probable cause and the State Attorney’s office concurred. Boros was demoted.
City Lt. John Powers was sworn in and asked about an incident related to possible political motives for the terminations. It had been testified to that he used a sledge hammer as a prop and stated that the hammer was coming down at the police station, implying that those who didn’t support Weeks in his 2015 election campaign, would pay consequences. He was asked if he had been arrested “earlier this year.” Powers denied the arrest. He further said that he was not going to discuss personal matters. News reports from mid-July 2016 stated he been arrested in Holmes County in a dispute where he allegedly slapped a cell phone out of someone’s hand. An October 2016 release from DFSPD stated that Powers received Pre Trial Intervention (PTI) and upon completion of the conditions set forth in the PTI agreement, the charges will be dismissed. A PTI is not an admission of guilt.
Former Walton County Sheriff Ralph Johnson testified about Boros’ dismissal from the Sheriff’s Office following an internal affairs investigation regarding excess force on a jail detainee. Johnson also refuted some of Boros’ testimony as to the incident.
Tilman Mears was called on to testify to his experiences while being in the DeFuniak Springs Police Department, prior to his moving to Assistant City Manager and Public Works Director. His testimony was directed towards his being a colleague of the officers involved and his opinion of the internal affairs investigations procedure in the department.
Kaiser and Boblitt both stated that they are no longer in law enforcement, unable to find any employment in the field. Kaiser and his family have moved to Alaska where he drives a truck for Lowe’s. Boblitt, who said he was four years short of retirement at the time of his termination is unemployed.
A decision in the matter will take at least 90 days. Adkinson said it is likely to be in the summer.