By Robert Flippo
The Piedmont Personnel Board met Monday July 1 to conduct an appeal hearing for Kenneth Qualls, a former officer with the Piedmont Police Department who was terminated after issuing a fine to a mother whose three year old urinated in front of their home.
The board voted 2-1 to uphold the termination.
The hearing began with the city’s presentation, given by the city attorney Mike Segler. Segler provided a packet of information to the personnel board, which included numerous documents regarding the case. Among those documents was a memo sent to the city manager from Police Chief Alex Oblein prior to any action being taken against Qualls. The memo listed 14 areas of concern regarding Qualls.
Next, Qualls’ lawyer, Jarrod Leaman spoke. As Leaman put it, his intention was to “frame the issue”. Leaman reminded the board that Qualls was a long time police officer and a former Marine. Then, he launched into an explanation of what it means to be a police officer.
“The nature of police work is going out and doing what we don’t want to do ourselves and that is going out and enforcing the laws of our community,” Leaman said. “Every day an officer does that he is essentially backing up his fellow citizens by helping them fight the crime in their neighborhood and to live in a safer community.
“It’s only fair that the inverse of that be true. The community the citizens and the agency that employs that officer have his back when he does take those actions he is paid to take. It is my opinion that the city of Piedmont failed to back up Mr. Qualls.”
Finally, Qualls gave his testimony to the board. This was the first time Qualls had given his version of the events to the public.
Qualls said that he witnessed the three old being led to the street by a fifteen year old, who pulled down the child’s pants and lifted up the child’s shirt. The child was facing away from Qualls so he was not able to confirm that the child urinated but he believed the child did. Qualls approached the child’s mother and got her information in order to write a citation for allowing her child to urinate in public. According to Qualls, before he wrote the citation he called his supervising sergeant to see if there were any problems with it. The sergeant did not have a problem with it but directed Qualls to the next supervisor, a captain. The captain too did not have a problem with the citation. The next day, Qualls spoke with the district attorney’s office, which told him that since there was no statute for allowing a child to urinate in public, to amend the citation to the delinquency of a minor.
All in all, Qualls version of the events told a story of an officer doing his due diligence who contacted his superiors when he found himself on unsure ground. Upon receiving their blessing, he did what he thought he was supposed to.
Qualls, and his attorney Leaman, claim that it was only after the media, local and national, got involved that the city of Piedmont moved to fire him. They believe that it was a decision made out of shame and that Qualls ended up being the fall guy.
One thing is for certain, that with the involvement of the media, the entire issue and sequence of events became emotionally charged and convoluted.
To illustrate that point, Jerry Dickerson, acting chair of the personnel board, stated after hearing Qualls’ testimony that it was third version of the events that they had heard.
Upon hearing Qualls’ presentation, the board adjourned to executive session to discuss their decision. After roughly twenty minutes, the board returned and gave their ruling, a split decision to let the termination to stand.