04/02/2012

Wyo. deputy wrongly fired, High Court says

The Laramie County Sheriff's Department says it will wait for the state Supreme Court to issue an order for whether it has to reinstate previously fired deputy Kenneth Cook

By Trevor Brown
Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

CHEYENNE — The Laramie County Sheriff's Department was wrong for firing a deputy in 2010, the Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled.
 
The justices upheld a district court ruling that former deputy Kenneth Cook was unfairly dismissed by the agency.
 
Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite wrote in the filing this week that there was not sufficient cause for the department to fire Cook.
 
He was let go from the agency on Jan. 4, 2010, because officials said he mishandled the investigation of a fight between an off-duty Cheyenne Police officer and an F.E. Warren Air Force Base airman at the Outlaw Saloon in December 2009.
 
According to documents, Cook and fellow deputy Sean Ringrose were working security for the bar at the time and were in uniform, though they were not on duty for the department.
 
In the fight, police officer Russ Edwards punched the airman, Sgt. Timothy Finch, who suffered a fractured cheek bone, broken eye socket and detached retina.
 
Neither party pressed charges, and they left the bar without being arrested or cited. Finch was taken to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center by ambulance.
 
The sheriff's department, on later review, fired Cook and Ringrose "due to both deputies' conduct in handling the aftermath of the altercation, including their failure to write reports and to timely investigate the incident," documents show.
 
Cook also was fired for not having his shotgun in his car when he was escorted to his patrol unit to retrieve his weapons on the day he was fired.
 
He then appealed the dismissal, asking for reinstatement as a sworn deputy and for back wages to the date of his firing.
 
Sheridan County District Judge John Fenn ruled in May 2011 that Cook should not have been fired since he fulfilled his necessary duties under the department's regulations.
 
The case moved to the Supreme Court after the Laramie County Sheriff's Department appealed that decision.
 
In the Supreme Court ruling, Kite wrote that Cook did enough to fulfill his requirement to "conduct an investigation, albeit an abbreviated one" on the night of the incident.
 
"(Cook) stated that he talked with witness about the observation of Finch's behavior ? and (he) questioned Finch about the fight right after it occurred," Kite wrote. "Deputy Cook conducted additional investigation in preparation for filing his written report."
 
Cook and his attorney, Stephen Kline, were unable for comment.
 
Laramie County Sheriff's Department Operations Capt. Rich Hillegas said he could not speak specifically about the case or if and when Cook will be reinstated because it is a personnel matter.
 
But he said the Supreme Court could send down a "mandate" to the department to reverse the firing and put Cook back on staff.
 
Hillegas said the order could come within the next couple of weeks. 
 
Copyright 2012 Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc.
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