Chancellor orders mediation in Bowen case

Jake Old • Dec 22, 2016 at 2:25 PM

Chancellor C.K. Smith has ordered mediation within the next 90 days in an appeal case between former Lebanon police Chief Scott Bowen and the city of Lebanon.

“(Smith) ordered mediation within 90 days, and he said if we couldn’t agree on someone (to mediate the dispute), he would appoint one,” Keith Williams, an attorney representing Bowen, said.

Both sides agreed on retired judge John Turnbull of Cookeville to mediate the case. The mediation will take place “after the first of the year,” Williams said. Both sides are also required to agree on a date.

Earlier this month, Smith delayed a hearing on the appeal case to November 2017 due to a lack of time to consider information from both sides in the dispute. About 400-500 pages of documents were filed in the case between both sides.

At the time, live testimony was also to be part of Bowen’s case against the city. Attorneys for the city of Lebanon argued that new evidence, including the live testimony, should not be considered by Smith in the appeal case.

Because the previous Dec. 2 hearing would not provide enough time for Smith to consider all of the facts, he suggested that both sides agree on a week in November 2017, the first time when a full week was available for all parties involved, for the rescheduling of the appeal.

Williams said he did not know the reason that Smith ordered mediation. To his knowledge, Williams said, neither side pushed for the mediation.

The dispute between Bowen and the city stems from his firing by former Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead in 2014. Bowen alleges that the firing was illegal and politically charged.

Williams filed the initial appeal in chancery court after hearing officer Brett Gipson ruled last year that Craighead had cause to fire Bowen.

Craighead fired Bowen in December 2014 after an incident involving the city’s Public Safety division.

A change in the city’s charter gave Craighead the sole authority to fire Bowen without the council’s approval. It also made a provision for Bowen and potentially future department heads in similar situations to appeal disciplinary actions before an administrative law judge.

Prior to the change, the mayor and at least four city councilors’ approval was needed to fire department heads.

The same city charter change the council approved also made Public Safety its own department within the city. When that change took place, five Public Safety officers, including current police Chief Mike Justice, continued to use the police department’s originating agency identification number for access to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center database.

Andy Wright, Lebanon’s city attorney, previously said Bowen told a police administrator to contact TBI, asking the agency whether the five officers could access a state and federal database for criminal history, driver’s license and tag information and other sensitive information used by law enforcement agencies.

Since Public Safety became its own department through the charter change, it didn’t have its own identification number for the TBI system because it previously operated as a division of the police department. Each law enforcement agency is assigned its own identification number.

Wright also said Bowen was correct to notify TBI of the Public Safety officers, but it was the way he went about doing it that ultimately cost him his job. He said Bowen was fired for not telling anyone about the noncompliance issue between the five Lebanon Public Safety officers and TBI.

Bowen’s attorneys argue that the firing was political, and filed the writ of certiorari in chancery court as a means of appealing the previous decision to uphold the firing as having cause.

The hearing was previously delayed from March until December this year. Williams said he and Bowen have been ready to go to trial for a long time, and they are looking forward to a resolution.

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