Fired Columbia police officer takes city to court

COLUMBIA (AP) — A former Columbia police officer who was fired for shoving a prisoner in a holding cell has requested a judicial review of the city’s refusal to return him to the force.

Former Officer Rob Sanders filed a petition for the review with the Cole County Circuit Court, challenging City Manager Mike Matthes’ decision not to give him his job back after Sanders was fired in 2011.

Matthes’ decision ended Sanders last administrative avenue to be reinstated.

Police Chief Ken Burton fired Sanders in 2011 even though an internal affairs investigation cleared Sanders of any wrongdoing when he shoved inmate Kenneth Baker, who was screaming for water for his eyes because officers had used pepper spray on him while arresting him on two felony warrants. Several officers testified in support of Baker during the review, saying he followed department procedures in his handling of Baker.

Burton contended that Sanders could have used other tactics and called his use of force inexcusable.

Sanders also was acquitted in court on a charge of third-degree assault, after several Columbia officers testified that he followed the department’s training, policies and tactics.

Baker hit his head on a wall after he was shoved. He also suffered a fractured vertebra but it was not clear if that was caused by the shove or the earlier struggle with officers. The city later agreed to a $250,000 settlement with Baker to cover medical expenses.

Sanders worked for the department for 18 years before he was fired.

According to his petition, city ordinances for firing employees for abusive behavior gives the city “unbridled, unqualified and completely subjective” power to deem any conduct “abusive” or “improper.”

City Counselor Nancy Thompson said the legal arguments behind Matthes’ decision are closed records because they involve a personnel matter. She declined to comment on the case.

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