Judge orders MPD officer reinstated
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
Aug. 27, 2003
It's been almost two years since the Meridian Police Department fired officer Rita Jack amid allegations that she stole money and checks from the station's front desk.
Jack was never charged with a crime.
At least one grand jury declined to indict her. The state auditor's office reviewed the MPD's investigation, but took no action against her. The Meridian Civil Service Commission ordered her reinstatement.
The city of Meridian appealed.
Now, Lauderdale Circuit Judge Robert Bailey has affirmed the CSC's decision in effect, ordering the city to reinstate Jack and award back pay retroactive to her termination date of Sept. 14, 2001.
She reported for duty this morning at 8 a.m.
Between February and May 2001, money came up missing from the MPD's bank deposits.
Civilian worker Vivian Groves confessed to stealing the money and eventually named Jack as her accomplice. Both were suspended and ultimately fired.
The state auditor's office issued a demand letter against Groves, and she agreed to repay a total of $5,097 the missing money, plus $1,648 in investigative costs and $478 in interest. In exchange for Groves' testimony, the MPD agreed not to file charges against her.
Jack denied the accusation and appealed her termination to the Meridian Civil Service Commission. The CSC ordered her reinstatement in August 2002 remarking that the allegations against Jack "stand or fall on the strength of Groves' testimony."
In its order, the CSC made note of three statements Groves made to police investigators. In the first two, she did not incriminate anybody else. In the last, she said Jack was her accomplice.
Jack was not reinstated. The city of Meridian appealed the CSC's decision to Lauderdale County Circuit Court in October 2002.
Fallback position No. 1
City attorney Lee Thaggard's appeal focused now on the second of Meridian Police Chief Benny DuBose's reasons for firing Jack that she allegedly lied during an Internal Affairs Investigation conducted by the MPD.
Less prominent was the unproven accusation that she stole money.
Laying out the ground rules in his written decision, Judge Bailey said he would not reverse the CSC unless the commission's decision was "arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial evidence."
Bailey said the city's allegation that Jack had lied was unsupported by any evidence at all.
Fallback No. 2
If a reversal was impossible, Thaggard next argued, Jack should not be awarded all of her back pay retroactive to Sept. 14, 2001.
Instead, he said Jack had the duty to "mitigate" the damages which means that any income she earned while she was terminated should be deducted from her financial award.
Jack says she's eager to resume her career.
And, she wanted to thank her attorneys, David Linder and the Hamilton Law Firm: "Truly, Mr. Linder is a friend indeed."
For the past two years, Jack has worked full-time as a security guard and EMS driver for Jeff Anderson Medical Regional Center. She plans to continue working part-time there as a security guard, and maintain her EMS license.
What's she going to do with two years of back pay?