Roger Anderson was 40 days from retirement — and the pension he would have earned after a 29-year career at the Bellevue Police Department.
Then one day his boss found out that Anderson had spent an hour of sick time taking a friend — former Bellevue Police Officer Chris Parent — through a state firearms certification test.
Police Chief John Stacey called Anderson on the carpet about administering the test for Parent — an officer Stacey had gone to great lengths, and great expense, to keep off the force.
Anderson told his supervisors he made a mistake; that he had spent four hours of sick leave with one of his children, then an hour at a gun range administering Parent's firearms test.
Anderson offered to forfeit that hour of sick time.
Stacey's response: You're fired.
The City of Bellevue listed Anderson's cause of termination as failing to follow chain of command, failing to contact a supervisor before leaving his house, violating rules over sick leave, and failing to uphold the department's integrity policy.
Anderson's attorney, Steve Delaney, attributed the termination to something else: spite.
"It's just nuts," Delaney said. "John Stacey is still hung up on the Chris Parent case. If Roger had helped out any other officer, we wouldn't be here today."
Stacey said the termination had nothing to do with Parent.
"Why is (Parent's) name even involved in this?" Stacey said. "Yes, he was the shooter that day, but we're not talking about him. Our actions were based solely on (Anderson's) own actions. It wasn't a simple mistake."
The termination already has become anything but simple.
Stacey has asked that state officials investigate Anderson and Parent for "possible prosecution" over the firearms test — something the state has found no reason to do. Anderson's attorney, meanwhile, has cautioned that Bellevue is venturing down the same road it did with Parent.
After Stacey fired the overweight Parent in 2007, Delaney represented Parent in a costly court battle that overturned that termination. All told, Parent's case cost Bellevue $320,000, most of it back pay owed to Parent.
Just as in the Parent case, Delaney said, Anderson will appeal his termination as he tries to salvage the $200,000 he stands to lose from his $550,000 pension fund if his termination is upheld.
The firing came six weeks before March 3 — his 55th birthday and the day he planned to retire.
"I was devastated," Anderson said. "It's extremely stressful. What I was going to do was retire and use the retirement to support my family. This is all I've done my whole life."
Dec. 6 marked the beginning of the end of Anderson's law-enforcement life.
Anderson had been on light duty since shoulder surgery in October. That morning, he texted his boss that he was taking a half-day of sick leave to care for one of his young children. He planned to report in the early afternoon.
Several days before, Parent, who had lost considerable weight since his termination, called Anderson to get references of instructors who could oversee his firearms test. Parent — in his 29th month of paid leave, per Stacey's order — said he wasn't interested in returning to the force. However, he wanted to take the test so he could continue to carry a weapon after he retired in January.
Anderson offered to oversee the test. "Make sure you practice," he told Parent.
"I told him I was a little concerned about what the reaction might be," Parent said. "He said 'The right thing to do is the right thing to do.'"
On Dec. 6, after he was done caring for his child, Anderson decided to test out his shoulder at the Bullet Hole, an indoor firing range in La Vista. He called Parent and told him they could meet there for Parent's test.
Parent passed the half-hour test, which requires officers to hit 70 percent of targets from varying positions and distances.
On Dec. 15, William Muldoon, director of the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center, sent a letter to Stacey, notifying the chief that he had "received the required documentation to reactivate (Parent's) certification."
"As of this date, his law enforcement status has been changed from suspended to active and he is once again authorized to exercise law enforcement powers," Muldoon wrote.
Stacey launched an investigation.
Why did the chief care about a test given to Parent, an officer he had no plans to reinstate?
"There were several issues that surrounded that as far as integrity — and whether the state mandates were met," Stacey said. "We don't even know if this (gun test) occurred. How do we know this wasn't done around someone's kitchen table? These two guys are buddies."
On Dec. 20, Stacey sent a letter to Muldoon's boss.
"I would respectfully request that you immediately rescind (Parent's certification)," he wrote. "The Bellevue Police Department has no record, nor will support any record of any action concerning the qualification or abilities of either of these officers without considerable, legitimate oversight."
In the letter, Stacey accused Anderson of "misrepresent(ing) the Bellevue Police Department." He said that Anderson was not a firearms instructor for Bellevue police and hadn't been since 2008. He went on to suggest that the state "investigate and revoke both officers as a result of this misconduct and review for possible prosecution."
Muldoon invited Stacey to share any information Bellevue turned up about the test.
Reviewing the reports, Muldoon had little concern. A Bullet Hole worker confirmed the shoot. Delaney provided photos of it.
Stacey and Bellevue police brass were "picking it apart," Muldoon said. "How distances were measured, how it was timed, how (Parent) kneeled. They never brought up that this did not happen."
Questions about Anderson's status were put to rest, Muldoon said. Despite taking Anderson off its in-house firearms team in 2008, he said, Bellevue police sent Anderson to state training to be recertified as a firearms instructor in 2010. Anderson passed — and is qualified to administer firearms tests till 2013.
Muldoon said the state found no reason to doubt Parent's test or refer it for prosecution.
"It has put a strain on us with Bellevue," Muldoon said. "That's very unfortunate. And I guess that's all we want to say."
Stacey had more to say. He questioned the authenticity of the certification and argued that the state isn't enforcing its required documentation. Namely, Stacey said, he was required to sign off as police chief.
Stacey further accused Anderson of having a "lack of integrity" — and pointed to a 2008 "serious disciplinary action."
In that case, Stacey attempted to fire Anderson, alleging that he had "lied" on a police report after responding to a domestic violence case. Delaney disputed that, saying Anderson was guilty of nothing more than a "sloppy police report."
Delaney said the timing of that disciplinary action was "just as curious as the current case."
The 2008 attempt to fire Anderson came just weeks after Anderson testified on Parent's behalf during a hearing about whether Parent should get his job back, Delaney said. And that attempt to fire Anderson also was coupled with Stacey's request that Anderson be prosecuted for perjury.
Stacey said that request had nothing to do with Anderson's support of Parent but with Stacey's concern that Anderson would have credibility problems in court.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov did not share Stacey's concerns. Polikov said last week that Anderson's report may have been deficient, but it wasn't deceptive.
"At no time did I ever consider charging Officer Anderson with perjury as the situation and evidence did not warrant any such charge," Polikov said then.
Then-City Administrator Gary Troutman overruled Stacey's termination request. He suspended Anderson for eight days.
How will the current case end?
Anderson, who has five children, will fight for his job at a civil service commission hearing this spring. A court battle could ensue, depending on how the commission rules.
Delaney said Anderson has spent three decades dutifully going about his job. He started the department's motorcycle unit 20 years ago, served as a sniper on the SWAT team and served 10 years as a volunteer firefighter. In his three decades as a state firearms instructor, he said, he never had a problem till he administered the test for Parent, his friend of three decades.
"Roger's a very good officer — a real stand-up guy," Parent said. "Calm. Thoughtful. They lost a lot of talent when they showed him the door.
"This thing is more about me than it is about him. This is payback for him helping me."
City Administrator Dan Berlowitz, who approved Stacey's request to fire Anderson, said neither he nor Stacey had factored in Parent. Stacey said he also didn't consider Anderson's length of service, his retirement eligibility or how costly a legal fight over this termination could become.
"Cost is not the issue," Stacey said. "It comes down to right and wrong. If a policy has been violated, it doesn't matter whether a guy's been on (the force) a month or 20 years."
Delaney said he will ask the city for a list of sick-leave violators to see if "anyone else was fired over an hour of sick time."
"We've said all along we would be willing to forfeit that time," Delaney said. "But an hour? You don't give someone the death penalty for that."
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