Commission backs firing of policeman

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2003

[8/22/03]An order signed Thursday says the Vicksburg Civil Service Commission voted 2-1 to uphold the firing of 10-year Officer Gary Cooper, backing Police Chief Tommy Moffett and the Mayor and Aldermen in the decision.

Cooper arrested and then released a 19-year-old because, he said, he believed the teen was close kin to an attorney who had represented him, according to the officer’s testimony at his Aug. 13 appeal hearing.

The teen was accused of playing his truck stereo too loud, and Moffett had issued a zero tolerance directive to officers for that offense, testimony showed.

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Commissioners Joe Graham and Linda Sweezer voted to uphold Moffett’s decision, the order says. Commissioner Clyde Harris disagreed with the finding that the action was “in good faith and for good cause.”

Cooper’s attorney, David Sessums, had argued that firing was too harsh a penalty for actions taken on the afternoon of May 22. Today, Sessums said he had not talked with his client, so a decision on an appeal to circuit court had not been made.

Testimony showed Cooper was staffing a roadblock near Bazinsky Road when he took 19-year-old Hildon Sessums, a distant relative of David Sessums, into custody for what in his judgment was a violation of the city’s noise ordinance.

After speaking with the teen as he was driving him to police headquarters, Cooper reversed his direction and released him.

In a letter recommending to the city board that Cooper be fired, Moffett said he considered Cooper’s overall performance not just the single incident. The city board had upheld the termination decision on June 5.

Thursday’s order reflected the agreement reached by both attorneys and Graham, commission chairman, at the end of Cooper’s appeal hearing that his firing was not for political or religious reasons. Thus, by Civil Service rules, the panel was only allowed to consider whether the firing was probably made in good faith and for good cause.

Among local government employees, police and firefighters have civil servant status. It allows an independent review of actions taken related to their employment as a shield against actions being taken that are not related to their competence or fitness.