Originally created 08/12/05

Fired officer who is suing Aiken gets trial



AIKEN - A former Aiken police officer fired for watching a movie while on duty will get his day in court, South Carolina's Supreme Court has ruled.

After working its way through the state's appeals system for nearly four years, the lawsuit filed by David Willis will likely go to trial within the next four months, said Chuck Thompson, the city's attorney.

Mr. Willis is suing the city for unlawful termination and is asking for money he would have made had he not been fired, plus damages.

"I think our chances are very good," Mr. Thompson said Thursday. "He engaged in quite a few instances of misconduct that he admits that certainly sound pretty bad."

The Supreme Court ruled 3-2 in June that a jury should decide whether Mr. Willis was an "at-will" employee who could be fired at any time.

Aiken Public Safety Chief Pete Frommer said he could not comment on the case.

Several telephone messages left at the Johnston Police Department in Edgefield County, where Mr. Willis now works, were not returned.

Aiken Public Safety hired Mr. Willis as a patrol officer in 1981. During his career with the department, he was reprimanded at least four times. He was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant in 2000 on various charges of misconduct, according to legal documents filed by the city.

Those documents also state that he went on a profanity-laced tirade when forced to participate in a photo shoot with other officers.

In another, he was talking to a confidential drug informant without agency permission, documents show.

Mr. Willis was fired in March 2001 after Chief Frommer found him and other officers watching Coyote Ugly in the department's dispatch room.

Although dispatchers had permission to watch movies during slow morning hours when there were fewer calls, officers did not.

The other officers found watching the movie were disciplined but were not fired because they had no prior offenses.

Mr. Willis appealed his firing, and the city's grievance committee recommended that he be demoted and given one more chance. But City Manager Roger LeDuc upheld Chief Frommer's decision after speaking with several police supervisors.

Mr. Willis filed his lawsuit in 2001 and accuses the city of not following its employee handbook, firing him without just cause and not giving him a fair grievance hearing.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.



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