Ohio Chief Ordered Reinstated – Another Victory for Chip Comstock

An assistant chief from Bristol Township has been ordered reinstated by an Ohio court.

Assistant Chief Steven Craiger was terminated by the Bristol Township Board of Trustees for “malfeasance, misfeasance, misconduct in office and/or gross neglect of duty and that the seriousness of his misconduct warrants removal.”  The charges were brought by Fire Chief Roger French and involved three primary allegations:

  • Downloading “inappropriate” photos to department computers
  • Installation of remote access capabilities to a work computer that allowed someone to listen in from a remote location
  • Wearing of a department t-shirt at a FEMA meeting after he had been placed on administrative leave over the above charges

The Trustees found that Chief Craiger “admitted on the record” committing insubordination and violating “Standard Operating Guide[lines].”  Represented by attorney Chip Comstock, Chief Craiger appealed his termination to the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas.

The court initially noted that Chief Craiger’s disciplinary hearing suffered from an “air of impropriety” because Chief French’s brother, Bristol Township Trustee Ramon French, moderated the proceeding and “frequently questioned witnesses at the conclusion of their testimony.” The court said the “close familial relationship” between the Chief and his brother warranted “extreme scrutiny” to ensure due process.

In addition, the court found that a line of questioning by another township trustee, Douglas Seeman, was “improper and inappropriate”. Seeman was “involved” with a company that was bidding on township work, and his questioning of Chief Craiger extended into that bid process, further “lending an air of impropriety to the proceedings.”

The court concluded:

  • “there is no evidence of any instructions, orders or discipline meted out by Chief French and then disregarded by Craiger.”
  • “There was no evidence presented that Craiger violated any of the SOPs cited in the [Board of Trustees’] findings of fact.”
  • “For nearly every charge against Craiger, Chief French had direct or indirect knowledge and acquiesced to the activity.”
  • “the appearance of impropriety as to the participation of Trustee French taints the underlying process”

And finally: “the decision of the Trustees was unlawful, unreasonable, and against the manifest weight of evidence.”

Here is a copy of the decision. Craiger v Bristol Township

Congratulations to Chip Comstock on his second major victory this year on behalf of an Ohio chief officer!!! The other victory was the reinstatement of Fire Chief David Fulmer of the West Licking Joint Fire District by the Ohio Court of Appeals in January.

 

 

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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