Po­lice Chief Fired ‘To Pro­tect’ Pub­lic Safety, Pub­lic Wel­fare

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - NEWS - By Lynn Kut­ter

Edi­tor’s Note: See Page 1 ar­ti­cle for de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about ac­tions taken against for­mer po­lice Chief Brian Key.

LIN­COLN — Lin­coln City Coun­cil met in a spe­cial meeting Mon­day night to re­ceive in­for­ma­tion first­hand on the time­line of the fir­ing of the city’s po­lice chief last week.

Like the rest of Lin­coln, City Coun­cil mem­bers learned that for­mer Chief Brian Key had been placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave pend­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion through a post on the city’s Face­book page on Oct. 24. Three days later, Mayor Rob Hulse fired him.

Hulse ex­plained the meeting was called to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion to the Coun­cil and to the pub­lic. From there, Hulse turned over the meeting to City At­tor­ney Steve Zega.

Zega told Coun­cil mem­bers he would give them all the in­for­ma­tion he could about the city’s ac­tions but with the un­der­stand­ing he was lim­ited be­cause of an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions con­cern­ing Key.

At the re­quest of the county pros­e­cu­tor, Arkansas State Po­lice is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Key be­cause of mul­ti­ple in­quiries and con­cerns made about him. No in­for­ma­tion has been re­leased yet on why Key was ter­mi­nated or why he is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Zega said State Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors were look­ing at the Lin­coln Po­lice Depart­ment’s ev­i­dence locker room about three weeks ago but city of­fi­cials did not know what the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was about.

Zega said the de­ci­sion was made then not to make any comments about the State Po­lice visit for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing pro­tect­ing the in­tegrity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and as a pro­tec­tion for any­one be­ing in­ves­ti­gated in case al­le­ga­tions did not turn out to be true.

Last week, Zega said, he and Hulse re­ceived more in­for­ma­tion and de­cided to place Key on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave and to in­form the pub­lic as quickly as pos­si­ble. Given the na­ture of the con­cerns and al­le­ga­tions, Zega said he be­lieved it was im­per­a­tive to let the pub­lic know about the ad­min­is­tra­tive leave.

“The first con­cern was pub­lic safety and pub­lic wel­fare,” Zega said “Noth­ing I rec­om­mended out­weighed that.”

The sec­ond rea­son to an­nounce the ad­min­is­tra­tive leave on Face­book, he said, was to pro­tect the in­tegrity of the Lin­coln Po­lice Depart­ment.

“It’s im­por­tant we have a po­lice depart­ment we can re­spect and trust,” Zega said.

The third con­cern was the po­ten­tial civil li­a­bil­ity for the city and Zega ad­mit­ted, “I don’t know we’re out of that par­tic­u­lar pickle just yet.”

Zega said he also wanted to do what was right for Key, if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not find any ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing.

As more in­for­ma­tion came to him last week, in­clud­ing a video record­ing, Zega then rec­om­mended Hulse fire Key.

Zega said Key has the right to ap­peal the mayor’s de­ci­sion to the City Coun­cil but the city’s per­son­nel pol­icy is un­clear on the tim­ing for an ap­peal. State laws also ap­ply to an ap­peal and would take prece­dent over any city or­di­nances, Zega said.

Fol­low­ing Zega’s re­marks, Hulse thanked Zega.

“It’s been a try­ing week,” Hulse said. “When the State Po­lice was there, just as Steve said, we did not have a clear vi­sion on why they were there. When it be­came ap­par­ent there was an is­sue, pub­lic safety was pri­or­ity. That’s why we put out the press re­lease and put it on Face­book.”

While Zega ad­vised Hulse to place Key on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave and then to fire Key, Hulse em­pha­sized he is the one as mayor who made the decisions.

Hulse said when he re­viewed a video tape re­lated to al­le­ga­tions against Key, he knew he had to fire the chief.

“I knew we had to pro­tect the cit­i­zens of Lin­coln,” Hulse said.

He said he met with Key on Satur­day morn­ing and told him, “I had not choice but to ter­mi­nate his em­ploy­ment.”

Hulse’s voice broke dur­ing the meeting as he spoke about his friend­ship with Key, say­ing, “I think the world of Brian. I still do.” He said he wants Key and his fam­ily to take care of what they need to move for­ward.

Hulse said the in­tegrity of the po­lice depart­ment is still in­tact and spoke of the in­tegrity of the rest of the of­fi­cers.

The city has ad­ver­tised the po­lice chief’s po­si­tion and Hulse said the city “will have a chief of po­lice who will meet the in­tegrity of the rest of the depart­ment.”

He said the city will take the “nec­es­sary steps to get a qual­ity leader in here,” adding, “We will get through this.”

After the meeting, Hulse said he hopes to have a new chief in place by De­cem­ber.

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