A Cleveland Police Department drug and alcohol policy has been changed to allow for lighter punishments when there are “mitigating circumstances.”
The change comes as the Council looks for its role in the dismissal of veteran officer Lt. Steve Tyson.
The motion to change the policy was made Monday by At-Large Councilman Richard Banks. The motion, which also allows 90 days for staff to bring a revised copy of the citywide policy to the Council, passed unanimously.
Councilman Dale Hughes was absent.
The Council will review changes to the citywide drug and alcohol policy at a later date.
City Council members also passed a motion that if Tyson would release the city “from any and all liability,” he should be allowed to return to his position.
Banks said the drug test and medical information released by the department regarding the case could create a liability issue.
Emotions ran high as family and friends spoke at the standing-room-only meeting on behalf of Tyson.
According to their information, Tyson was placed on administrative leave after failing a random drug test. Tyson had reportedly taken a prescription pain killer prescribed for his son the night before to ease pain from kidney stones.
“Describing this as use of illegal drugs is misleading at best, and potentially deception with intent to harm,” Cleveland resident Larry Byrd said.
Following the failed drug test, an internal investigation was held and Tyson was alleged to have violated three drug-use policies.
According to published reports these included “Alcohol, Narcotics and Drugs, Subsection 4 (Use of Prescribed or OTC Drugs while on Duty or During Training), Policy 5-A Alcohol, Narcotics and Drugs, Subsection 6 (Reporting for Duty or on Duty While Intoxicated) and Policy 5-II Unlawful Conduct Offenses, Subsection 1 (Commission of Misdemeanor).“
Violations of these policies would result in termination, as the police department has a zero-tolerance policy, said Janice Casteel, city manager.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said there did not seem to be any indication Tyson was intoxicated when he came to work that morning.
Supporters spoke of Tyson’s integrity and asked the Cleveland City Council to do something to have him reinstated with the Cleveland Police Department.
“Steve has always been consistent, fair and impartial in his professional life, always upholding the law. Throughout his life, he has earned honor and respect from his family, friends, colleagues and peers. He is a man in whom many place their trust and confidence,” Byrd said. “Steve is a true pillar of the community. … We come before you to ask to help rectify an extreme wrong that Steve has suffered.”
Laney Nelson of Chattanooga read a statement written by Jill Tyson, her mother and Steve Tyson’s wife, who was unable to attend. The letter stated Steve Tyson had issues off and on with kidney stones.
“We don’t usually have strong pain medicine at the house, but we had some pills in the cabinet from our son’s accident a few weeks before. He took one pill and walked around, so that the pain would subside. The next morning Steve felt great and went to work,” Jill Tyson stated in the letter.
The statement went on to generally describe the work Steve Tyson did that day, noting no one he worked with had expressed concern.
“For some reason the chief decided to launch a full investigation before he talked to Steve,” Jill Tyson said in the statement.
A police officer who worked with Tyson that day told the Council that in his opinion Tyson was not impaired in any way when he reported for work.
CPD Chief David Bishop said he could not comment on the issue because of the pending hearing.
Banks and Council member David May said they had received more phone calls on this issue than anything else that had been considered since they began serving on the Council.
Cleveland resident Daniel Brantley said there were a number of unanswered questions surrounding the issue.
Tyson had been with CPD for 27 years, a fact supporters and later Council members felt should have been considered during the investigation.
“It is not lawful for someone to take someone else’s prescription,” city attorney John Kimball said.
City police policy does allow for staff or police officers who go to their supervisor admitting they have a drug or alcohol problem, and ask for help with rehabilitation to maintain their jobs, Casteel said.
Rowland said based on the testimonies heard that this would not apply in this case, because it was evident Tyson did not have an addiction.
Rowland had opened the meeting by stating the Council “did not have any authority over personnel matters.” The Council can, however, make inquiries about personnel matters to the city manager.
The city manager has the final decision when it comes to hiring and firing, but the Council can make changes to policy.
The Council addressed the issue as being a matter of policy. Yet, Banks admits that specific situations cannot be named in policy.
“Laws and offenses always have to be interpreted with the existing facts, and I think the Council in a unanimous vote today looked at the facts of this case and made the right decision,” Banks said.
“We are interpreting this situation as mitigating; we are giving consideration to something that mitigates this whole situation,” District 2 Councilman Bill Estes said. “We are just interpreting policy.”
Banks said the Council was not interpreting policy as much as it was “setting policy.”
Tyson was set to appeal his dismissal during a hearing Friday. At that hearing, Tyson would have had the opportunity to bring witnesses to speak. If Tyson waives the liability and is reinstated based on the Council’s motion, there would be no need for the hearing.
As part of its investigation, CPD also sent information to the District Attorney’s Office for review and a decision on whether criminal charges would be pursued.