GREENFIELD — A Hancock County sheriff’s deputy fired early this month is now fighting to get his job back, arguing he deserved a formal hearing.
An attorney for ex-deputy Jessy Walley, 25, sent a letter to the sheriff’s department stating that Walley was not eligible to be automatically fired. Walley got in trouble for showing up drunk to visit a fellow officer in the hospital after a shooting.
At issue is whether Walley was still technically on probation, the period during which an officer can be discharged without a hearing before the sheriff’s merit board.
The incident on July 28 was Walley’s second disciplinary incident since he was hired at the department in the spring of last year. According to his superiors, a clearly intoxicated Walley arrived at the hospital in a taxi cab after having been at a nearby bar.
His first sanction came on Jan. 1, when Walley marked on duty for his 6 a.m. shift an hour late and smelled of alcohol when he spoke with a supervisor about his tardiness. Walley registered a 0.02 blood-alcohol content on a breath test, a violation of the department’s zero-tolerance alcohol policy while on duty. As a result, he received a 15-day suspension and had his probationary period extended six months.
Indiana code states, “All county police officers appointed to the department … are on probation for a period of one year from the date of appointment.” At issue now is whether, legally, Walley’s probationary period could have been extended.
If not, it would have ended in March, meaning the deputy would have been entitled to paid suspension for the latest incident while awaiting a termination hearing before the sheriff’s merit board.
But Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd said he contacted the Indiana Sheriff’s Association’s attorney, Howard Williams, before striking a deal with Walley in January.
Shepherd said he specifically asked if it was legal to extend Walley’s probation.
“Howard says, ‘The first answer is no, but if he agrees to it, and you have a signed document, … then you have – and this is his wording – a ‘a binding contract,’” Shepherd said.
Williams could not be reached for comment.
Shepherd said when Walley was first disciplined in January, he was willing to do anything to keep his job, including extend his probation to September.
Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart, Shepherd’s second in command, was also present at the meeting to discuss Walley’s future with department.
“He came in and goes, ‘Whatever it takes. I’ll do whatever you want,’” Burkhart said. “And we tried to provide that to him. Who would have thought we’d have to do this?”
Walley was not on duty, in uniform or driving a department vehicle the morning he came to see Matt Fox, who had been shot during a traffic stop, at the hospital.
But he was still representing the department in a public place, said Shepherd, adding that Walley could have been arrested for public intoxication.
When Walley arrived, he was short on cab fare and had a confrontation with the taxi driver. He then went into the hospital, where others noticed he was staggering and smelled of alcohol, Shepherd said.
Walley was escorted from the hospital and driven home.
Walley is being represented by Charles Braun, the criminal law instructor for the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield. Braun did not return a call for comment.
Shepherd said he forwarded the letter on to attorney Gregg Morelock, who has represented the department in termination hearings in the past. Morelock did not return a call for comment.