Former Ga. officer files federal lawsuit over firing

By David A. Markiewicz,
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

HOLY SPRINGS, GA. An Iraqi war veteran said in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that he was fired from his job as a police sergeant in Holly Springs because his superiors were tired of his taking time off to fulfill his Georgia Army National Guard obligations.

Michael Wells, 37, a nine-year member of the force in Cherokee County, returned to his job last June after 18 months of service, including a year in combat, hoping for a promotion to lieutenant.

Instead, he said, he was denied the necessary training, passed over for the promotion, given a less desirable work shift and prodded to retire.

On April 9, he said, he was fired without cause.

Wells, an Atlanta native and Grady High School graduate now living in Pickens County, wants back wages, but not his old job back.

Holly Springs police Chief Ken Ball said he could not comment on the suit because he had not seen a copy of it.

Patrick Lail, an attorney representing the city of Holly Springs, issued a statement saying: "The City treated Michael Wells in compliance with all applicable laws. It regrets that he now contends he was treated unfairly. Nevertheless, the City stands by its decisions with respect to his employment and is confident in its ability to demonstrate the appropriateness of its actions."

The lawsuit charges that "Wells' membership in the Georgia Army National Guard was a motivating factor of the adverse employment action by the Defendants."

Wells said, "I want to get the word out. I don't want this to happen to other veterans."

He called the actions of his department superiors "anti-American."

Wells first joined the Georgia Army National Guard in 1994. After a few years he got married, then had two sons and embarked on a law enforcement career. He re-enlisted in the guard in 2000 and in January 2005 began training in California and at Fort Stewart before heading to Iraq that summer.

In Iraq, as a sergeant, he served on the front lines as part of the security detail for the battalion commander. He said he suffered some hearing loss as a result of a bomb blast.

He said he has no regrets about his service.

"I was able to serve my country," he said.

"I was in good shape and I wanted to be part of serving America. It was my way to contribute."

In January, Wells said, he signed on for six more years with the Georgia Army National Guard.

That commitment, he said, would require two weeks a year as well as occasional weekends away for training.

Wells acknowledged that the time away from his police job would cause some problems for the department.

"It was making the scheduling unstable because of me having to leave," he said.

Wells said he hopes to make a career in law enforcement elsewhere.

"I still feel like I have something to offer citizens here," he said. 

Copyright 2007 Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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