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Stump v. Town of Middletown

Superior Court of Delaware

April 8, 2019

JEFFERY L. STUMP, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF MIDDLETOWN, MAYOR KENNETH L. BRANNER, CHIEF MICHAEL IGLIO, and DELAWARE CRIMINAL JUSTICE COUNCIL, an agency of the State of Delaware Defendants.

          Submitted: March 25, 2019

         On Plaintiff's Petition for Writ of Mandamus.

          John S. Malik, Esquire, The Law Office of John S. Malik Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Rae M. Mims, Esquire, Department of Justice, Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Council

          Scott G. Wilcox, Esquire, Moore & Rutt, Attorney for Defendants Town of Middletown, Mayor Kenneth L. Branner, and Chief Michael Iglio.

          OPINION

          CALVIN L. SCOTT, JR. JUDGE

         Findings of Fact

         In the Fall of 2015, an internal affairs investigation was initiated by the Town of Middletown Police Department related to an incident that occurred on September 28, 2015, involving Master Sergeant Jeffery Stump.[1] Following their standard procedure, Sergeant Stump was provided notice of the investigation, the allegations he was facing, and the disciplinary sanctions that could be imposed as a result of the outcome of the investigation. The investigation was carried out by then Captain Iglio, who at the time was an Internal Affairs officer.

         On November 6, 2015, as part of the investigation, Sergeant Stump was interviewed by Captain Iglio. Also present at the interview was Lieutenant Texter and Counsel for Sergeant Stump. The interview was recorded in compliance with 11 Del. C. § 9200 (c) (7).

         At the end of the investigation, Captain Iglio reached the conclusion that four of the allegations against Sergeant Stump were sustained. A fifth allegation was not sustained, and Sergeant Stump was exonerated in relation to a sixth allegation. These conclusions were reviewed by the town solicitor and then presented to then Chief of Police Yeager. At the time, imposition of discipline based on the findings of internal investigations was up to the discretion of the Chief of Police. By letter dated January 7, 2016, Sergeant Stump was notified that he was to be disciplined. The discipline imposed was effective retroactive to January 4, 2016, including a demotion two ranks to Master Corporal, a corresponding reduction in pay, and one year of probation. This notice is addressed from the Mayor and Council of Middletown, signed by Mayor Branner. Sergeant Stump was made aware of this decision after working at least part of a shift on January 8, 2016. Sergeant Stump acknowledged receipt of this notice, signing the letter on the same day.

         On January 20, 2016, Counsel for Sergeant Stump notified Captain Iglio that his client wished to appeal the findings and discipline imposed following the internal affairs investigation. Correspondence from Counsel indicates they understood the grievance procedure to be pursuant to Section 6.2(B)(2)(a) and (b) of the Town's Personnel Policy Manual, and an ultimate appeal to the Mayor.

         As a result of the request for an appeal, Sergeant Stump and his Counsel attended a meeting with Mayor Branner, and the attorney for the Mayor. No members of the Town Council or Police Department were present for this meeting. Following the meeting Sergeant Stump was notified by letter dated December 6, 2016, that the Mayor and Council heard the appeal, and agreed that the penalty they placed upon Stump "may have been too severe." The letter served as notice that Sergeant Stump was to be reinstated one rank to Sergeant, and provided back pay from January 6, 2016 to December 5, 2016.[2]

         On December 14, 2016, Sergeant Stump notified the Mayor via email that he wished to appeal the Mayor and Council's determination "to the next step." The Mayor's response from the following day stated "[The Mayor] heard your appeal, as stated in the MOU and Town Policy manual, and made a recommendation to Council which was accepted." The response further states that the Mayor and Council's decision was final, and that there was no "next step" in the appeals process.

         On December 28, 2016, Sergeant Stump's attorney requested a hearing via trial board to be convened under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Council (CJC). In response, now acting Chief Iglio sent a letter to the CJC notifying the Council of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the Town and the Middletown Police Department Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #20. Acting Chief Iglio provided an abbreviated statement of the matter, and represented that Sergeant Stump initiated and exhausted the grievance procedure as outlined in the personnel policy manual.

         Based on the facts presented by the parties, the CJC determined Sergeant Stump was not entitled to a hearing under the auspices of the CJC. The Letter from CJC Executive Director Kervick shows there was a misapprehension on the part of the CJC in regards to the process afforded Sergeant Stump. As of the date of the letter it was understood by the CJC that "the Middletown Police Department held a hearing concerning Sergeant Stump's demotion […] under its grievance procedure articulated within the Department's collective bargaining agreement."[3] The letter continues "Sergeant Stump's grievance went through the successive steps of the agreement" indicating the CJC believed Sergeant Stump was afforded the opportunity to present his case to the Mayor and City Council.[4]

         Following the denial of a trial board hearing before the CJC, Stump petitioned this Court for a Writ of Mandamus, demanding a hearing consistent with the requirements of ...


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