Real Estate Agent Turned Police Officer

Real Estate Agent Turned Police Officer

Lonnie Knight was an unemployed real estate agent. His dream to become wealthy in the real estate market was quickly fading. Real estate sales in Melville had plummeted due to record high interest rates and a poor economy. The unemployment rate had also skyrocketed and Knight had become one of its latest victims. He had been out of work for well over a year but kept up his membership and activities with the local Lions club. This was his good fortune as another long-term Lions club member was Melville’s city manager, who was nearing retirement after 22 years with the city. The city manager made Knight aware of the C.E.T.A. program and asked the 38-year-old out-of-work real estate agent if he would be interested in changing careers to law enforcement. Knight said that he had not really thought much about such a change, but, after all, he did need a job. Off he went to the police academy and joined Melville’s police department 8 weeks later.

His first year or two on the force were mostly uneventful, although the city received a complaint or two over his mannerisms and attitude. By his third year, however, the complaints escalated. His short temper and foul mouth would result in discipline for almost any other officer. However, being a buddy of the city manager essentially made him untouchable, and no disciplinary record was ever made. The police chief supposedly counseled him on occasion but nothing was ever put in writing. At the end of Officer Knight’s third year with the force, the city manager retired and in came a new city manager. Jon Vogle arrived and took the reins of Melville in January.

While young and relatively new to city management, Vogle did bring with him 3 years of experience in another, smaller community. The problems with Officer Knight quickly surfaced to the manager’s attention. In his first 6 months, Vogle received as many complaints regarding Knight’s job performance. The most common complaints were over his loud verbal outbursts and his hot temper. Knight had a short fuse—a very short fuse. Vogle directed the police chief to document these incidents and to begin progressive discipline. Over the next several months, Knight received three written reprimands and two verbal ones. He filed a grievance each time and each one required a hearing before City Manager Vogle. At each of these hearings, Knight was his own worst enemy. He was tense and his face was beet red at each hearing. He looked as if he was going to explode. Vogle quickly ascertained this man had no business owning a gun, let alone carrying one as part of his official job duties. The manager wanted Knight’s errant behavior documented to build a case for termination. He felt that Knight had neither the skills nor the temperament to be in law enforcement.

In late summer, Knight was on routine patrol late in the evening in Melville when he spotted his estranged wife (who had moved to another part of the state) at a gas station. He approached her in his patrol car and began yelling at her with a long string of profanities over their marital discord. He threatened to beat the living daylights out of her. She rebuffed his attack and quickly drove off. Dissatisfied that he had not completed his discussions with her, he took off in pursuit. As his wife was in fear for her safety, she raced out of town with Knight, in the city patrol car, hot on her tail.

For nearly an hour and a half, he chased her over miles of back roads. Eventually, county sheriff units were in pursuit of him. The chase came to an end when he finally ran his estranged wife’s car off the road and into a ditch. The sheriff’s unit arrived at the same time and the sheriff had to restrain him from attacking his wife. Knight returned to the city and finished his shift.

When the police chief informed City Manager Vogle of the incident the next morning, he directed that Knight be terminated. In a plea deal with the police officers’ union, Knight was given a last chance reprieve. Under this deal, he would be given a 30-day nonpaid suspension and would only be cleared to return to work when a licensed psychiatrist stated in writing that he was fit for duty as a police officer. The deal also made it very clear that if he returned to work, any future infractions, even minor ones, would result in his immediate termination with no right of appeal.

While on his suspension, Knight was examined by a psychiatrist mutually agreed to by the city and the union. The psychiatrist administered routine personality and other tests to Knight. Three weeks later, he submitted his findings to City Manager Vogle. In his report, the doctor stated that Knight passed all tests, was not delusional, and did not have any personality disorders. The psychiatrist not only determined that Knight was fit for duty, he added that it was important that he return to work as soon as possible as he greatly missed his lifelong desire to be in law enforcement. This lifelong desire, of course, began at age 38 courtesy of the C.E.T.A. program.

The Monday before Thanksgiving was a normal day in Melville; relatively quiet. The evening council meeting was also uneventful, though it lasted a bit longer than usual. As he exited the city council chambers, City Manager Vogle was met by the police chief. The inevitable had happened. Once again, Knight lost his cool. He had arrested a juvenile who was wanted for vandalism. At the police station, the dispatcher called in other officers on the street to pull Knight away from the youngster. He was screaming and swearing at the kid and had kicked him several times in his uncontrollable rage. It was then learned that Knight had forged the warrant for the juvenile’s arrest.

“That’s it,” exclaimed Vogle. “Fire him!” Knight was summarily discharged that evening.

Five days later, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, City Manager Vogle was home. It was an unseasonably warm afternoon, and he was raking leaves. His wife called out to him, telling him that he had a telephone call and that it sounded urgent. He rushed into his home and picked up the receiver. On the other end of the line was the police chief, informing him that Knight’s body was just discovered in the basement of his home. Knight had jerry-rigged a shotgun, placed the barrel in his mouth, and blew his head off. Knight was 43.

 

Questions

  • Was City Manager Vogle partially responsible for Officer Knight’s suicide?

  • Was it unethical for Vogle to terminate Knight so close to a holiday?

  • Should Vogle have sent Knight to an anger management program in an effort to retrain him?

  • Was there just cause to immediately terminate Lonnie Knight after he chased his estranged wife with the city’s patrol vehicle?

  • Was it unethical for Burgess to assume Morgan’s guilt without first holding a hearing to determine his defense of his actions?

  • Was it unethical for her to agree to dropping criminal charges against Morgan in light of his admission of guilt?

  • Was Coryell’s firing of Carson too harsh a punishment especially in light of his 30 years with the city?

  • Were criminal charges against Carson justified?

  • What exactly is a voluntary termination? Would this be considered firing oneself?

1In fairness, not all communities used C.E.T.A. funds only for police and fire positions. Maintenance workers, park attendants, and the like were also hired.

2A 4-day Kelly is when a firefighter gets 3 days off in his or her rotation, and about every 2 months a 4th day is added on; this was supposedly invented by a New York firefighter by the name of Kelly.

3 Only an astute city manager would note that in John Travolta’s movie Ladder 49, the Baltimore fire station only has two refrigerators.

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