What was originally thought to be an hour grievance hearing on the firing of Deputy Todd Maxey for allegations of unethical behavior turned into a 6 ½ hour endeavor that not only sought to determine if Sheriff Chris Brown had grounds to fire Maxey, but also a hearing on clearing Maxey’s name of the ethics violation accusation levied against him in his official termination and in public.
As reported by The Sun Times, the Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement saying Maxey had been fired for allegedly providing inconsistent statements during the course of an investigation into whether he passed a stopped school bus. The statement said Maxey was not terminated because of the school bus incident, but rather his violation of the Code of Ethics.
Maxey, by law, was allowed a grievance hearing to be heard regarding his termination. Cleburne County has no official grievance board in place, and so the hearing was held in front of the full Cleburne County Quorum Court on Thursday, March 9.
The hearing turned into what amounted to a trial, with a break in the middle to hold the regularly scheduled March Quorum Court meeting. Lawyers for both sides, witnesses, and a court reporter were all on hand to present their cases to the Justices of the Peace.
Maxey’s attorney Zac White opened the hearing asserting Maxey’s civil rights had been violated and that he was having to argue his case with incomplete information, accusing the Sheriff’s Office and the West Side School District of not fully complying with FOIA requests. The West Side School District had received FOIA requests because it was a bus driver, Randy Carr, for that school district that made the accusation that Maxey had passed the stopped school bus. It was noted repeatedly that Carr refused to show up for the hearing and had hired his own attorney in the matter.
“The person who started the ball rolling is hiding out somewhere,” said White. “Tonight he’s not here.”
White said he intends to file FOIA lawsuits and not having all documents, evidence, or have the accused be able to face his accuser violates Maxey’s constitutional rights. He stated he requested a full copy of the Sheriff’s Office personnel handbook and only received a few photocopied pages in non-sequential order. He said he there was no way to determine if it was the full handbook. He then stated he wasn’t provided a full copy of the handbook, which is the Cleburne County personnel handbook for all county employees, until 2:30 p.m. last Thursday, the same day as the grievance hearing.
White said he didn’t believe the Sheriff was a ‘bad guy’ and he thought Sheriff Brown fully believed he was doing the right thing. He said the incident has become a vote of confidence in the newly elected Sheriff versus the honesty of a 14 year veteran of law enforcement. He said Brown, by issuing a statement via press release and social media, had demonized Maxey and tarnished his name. That, combined with the termination, effectively ended Maxey’s law enforcement career, presently and in the future.
Prosecuting Attorney Holly Meyer, who was representing Brown, objected to the hearing turning into a full fledged court case.
“This is not a trial,” said Meyer. “This is a grievance hearing. This is not the place for all those [constitutional] arguments.”
Meyer said there can be a trial, which would happen at the Circuit Court level.
Arguments, at times, got contentious between Meyer and White, with Meyer accusing White of filibustering and using threats about possible lawsuits against the county.
“This is called presenting a case for my client,” responded White.
Meyer followed White in making her opening statements for the Sheriff.
“You’ve heard an hour of talk, but you haven’t heard why the man got fired by our Sheriff,” said Meyer.
When presenting the question of what was actually before the Quorum Court, Meyer boiled it down to “Was he fair and did he follow procedure?”
“You may not even agree that he should have been fired,” continued Meyer. “That’s not the issue here. Did this Sheriff exercise his discretion as the elected official?”
Meyer stated they had complied with all FOIA requests.
“The threat of a lawsuit is arrogant and we’re not afraid of that,” said Meyer. “The Sheriff didn’t make him pass that school bus. The truth of it is that’s not why he got fired. He got fired because he can’t tell the truth. If you can’t be honest, you can’t be a police officer.”
Witnesses were called to give statements on both the school bus incident and the ensuing investigation that led to Maxey’s termination. Sgt C.J. Hallmark’s credibility in the investigation was called into question by White regarding statements he made in his report concerning Maxey’s questions about the existence of a video and the motivations he attributed to Maxey for wanting to know if there was a video. Hallmark stated he misled Maxey in telling him he wasn’t sure there was a video, when in fact he knew there was. He also, in his report, said he believed Maxey was asking if there was a video because he (Maxey) was trying to decide whether or not to tell the truth.
White asserted that meant Hallmark lied in his report. Meyer countered that no investigator presents all evidence to a suspect when taking statements during an investigation.
When Sheriff Brown took the witness stand, he stated he also believed Maxey was being untruthful, based on his statements, his requests to see the video, and physical responses to questioning he believed indicated dishonesty.
Brown said Maxey had requested a lie detector test, but it was denied because of the unreliability of polygraphs, which makes them inadmissible in court.
Regarding the press releases, Brown admitted that, in retrospect, those were released too early. He said Maxey’s name was never mentioned in the release and that it was Maxey’s social media post that identified him publicly as the fired deputy. He also said Arkansas is an ‘at will’ employment state, so he was within his legal authority to fire Maxey.
White asked Brown if it was possible Maxey wanted to see the video to exonerate himself.
“It could be anything,” said Brown.
“It could be anything, but you have used that to determine he was untruthful, is that correct?” said White.
“Yes,” responded Brown.
J.P Tim Caldwell asked Brown if Hallmark received any disciplinary action for lying to Maxey about the existence of the video. Brown responded there had been no disciplinary action in that matter. Brown said lying is a tool they can use during an interrogation or investigation to get to the truth with a suspect.
“I was hoping there was video so it would corroborate my story and show what I said from the very beginning was 100% factual,” said Maxey when he took the witness stand.
Maxey said he was offered the opportunity to resign instead of being terminated.
“I refuse to resign for something that I know in my heart and soul I didn’t do,” said Maxey.
The Justices of the Peace went into executive session, away from the public to deliberate and make their decision.
When they returned, J.P. Stephen Choate told those present there were two questions that had to be decided on. One was whether the Sheriff constitutionally and legally fired Maxey. All J.P.’s except Jesse Pate voted that the Sheriff was in his right to fire Maxey since Arkansas is an ‘at will’ employment state.
The second question involved clearing Maxey’s name of the ethics violation accusation leveled against. In that matter, all J.P.’s except Sam Henegar voted in support of Maxey.
As of publication, there has been no official statement made as to whether either side plans to appeal the matter to Circuit Court.