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County officer defends his job

Sheriff also testifies; board to rule soon

Ley

To officer Christopher Ley, it was as if a bad run-in with a training supervisor had put him in the crosshairs of everyone else.

During his six-year tenure with the Allen County Sheriff's Department, he was signaled out and criticized in ways other officers weren't.

To Allen County sheriff's officials, though, Ley displayed a consistent level of gross incompetence in the basics of police work.

So much so that it made him a safety liability to not only himself and residents, but also to the officers with whom he served.

Now, the Allen County Sheriff's Merit Board will decide whether Ley will be fired or stay with the department.

After hearing two days of testimony from Ley's fellow officers and training supervisors regarding his performance on the job, the five-member board ended a public meeting convened for a closed-doors executive session Tuesday evening.

A decision on Ley's status with the department will be announced in the next few days.

He's the third officer in more than 30 years to fight his termination, according to sheriff's officials.

Among Ley's deficiencies on the job, fellow officers noted during testimony under oath: he could not read a map well; would frequently get lost on the way to calls; would not always cuff arrestees properly; would not always interview people properly; missed red flags that indicated things were wrong on the street; fell out of radio contact with other departments; did not always maintain radio contact with fellow officers.

Sheriff Ken Fries called for Ley's termination this year after being told he could still not pass training that would allow him to perform the duties of a patrol officer.

It was the second time he considered firing Ley since 2010.

Back then, he wanted to fire Ley after the officer requested a transfer to the warrants division but, like this year, failed to pass training needed to be a patrol officer.

Fries decided to give the embattled officer a second chance, though, and put him in the civil division.

There, Ley dealt with paperwork and the transporting of prisoners from the jail to the Courthouse.

"Typically, I don't like to give second chances, but I do sometimes," Fries said during testimony before the board Tuesday.

During his own testimony, Ley told the board he had a falling out with an officer training him on patrol and serving warrants in 2010.

His Indianapolis-based lawyer, Edward Merchant, argued to the board that this made Ley a marked man within the department.

"From that point forward, Officer Ley was put under a microscope," said Merchant, who was paid by the local police union to represent Ley.

"He was labeled as damaged goods."

While in civil division, Ley was given poor marks for judgment, ability and getting to work in a timely manner during a 2012 review.

Still, like many of his fellow officers in the division at that point, he wanted to transfer to what many consider the more glamorous – at least to police officers – warrants division.

In that division, officers typically find themselves in inner-city Fort Wayne, sniffing out suspects of all types, some violent.

Even his friends in the department advised him it was a bad move due to his history of almost being fired.

"We expressed to him it was not a good time to (transfer)," said officer Duane Romine, who testified he never had any problems working with Ley.

"Other officers warned him not to do it," he continued.

Still, Ley went to Fries seeking a transfer to the warrants division that Fries granted with a caveat:

If he failed to pass the basics to be a patrol officer, he'd have to fire him.

Officers who trained Ley made it sound in testimony that they bent over backward to teach him the proper skills.

But, they said, he would have one good day followed by several bad days.

He did not retain any of the skills taught, and trainers began to get creative, doing things they had never done.

They'd put away their evaluation notebooks to take the pressure off him. They put him with a veteran officer to just observe how to do the job.

They put him with several different training officers, each with a different personality, to see who he'd respond to.

Still, he consistently failed, despite being liked by most he worked with.

"That's what makes this so hard," Fries said Tuesday. "He's not a heinous monster. He's just someone who can't do this job."

"It frustrates me because we tried so hard," Fries continued.

Ley at one point was put on a program where his performance was reviewed every 30 days, something done to only one other officer in department history, officials said.

He was warned constantly about keeping a radio on his lapel on and plugged in, as it served as his "lifeline" if he were ever in trouble on the street.

Ley also was warned, the department said, about keeping the scanning mode of his in-car radio on that would allow him to hear what other departments, like the city police, are dealing with at any given time.

Many times he failed to do both, culminating in a March incident where he ended up in the middle of a city police car chase unaware.

Ley, according to testimony, did not have the scanning mode of his radio on.

That warranted him a three-day suspension and also caused Fries to recommend his termination.

During his testimony, Ley told the board that he felt he was doing fine and that any criticism seemed to come out of nowhere.

He said many of his reviews were worded in ways that, while he had skills he needed to work on, were never clear he was on the brink of termination until he was told by Fries he was going to be fired.

"I felt like I was going pretty good. Maybe even better than that," he said.

While Ley testified that he wants to remain on the department, Allen County attorney John Feighner, the lead counsel for the sheriff's department during the proceedings, brought to the board's attention the possibility Ley might sue the county.

In a letter sent to Feighner on Monday night – after the first day of testimony regarding Ley's job – an attorney with Barrett & McNagny hired by Ley warned that the firm will "pursue and preserve Chris' rights."

"(W)e will be reviewing the proceedings for any legal action Mr. Ley may have as a result of fabricated or exaggerated testimony," read the letter, written by Anthony M. Stites.

Feighner called it nothing short of a threat and said in 37 years he had never seen such an action taken.

"I want you to tell (the board) if they exaggerated or falsely testified," Feighner demanded of Ley during questioning. "This is serious. If officers are lying or exaggerating, I want to know about it."

Ley remained noncommittal in his answers and refused to say whether any of his fellow officers lied during their testimony.

He remained committed to being an officer, though.

"I absolutely want to remain an Allen County police officer," he told the merit board. "I would say I'm very passionate about police work."

Until the merit board decides his fate, Ley remains suspended with pay. His annual salary is nearly $48,000.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

Correction

In the print edition and earlier online version of this story, Feighner's employer was misidentified.

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