Pubdate: Sat, 12 Aug 2000
Source: Akron Beacon-Journal (OH)
Copyright: 2000 by the Beacon Journal Publishing Co.
Author: Gregory Korte


Appeals to 2 officers' firings end differently; race enters question

Kenneth Clark and Elmore Williams Jr. were both 19-year veterans of the 
Akron Police Department.  

Both tested positive for marijuana after routine drug tests. Both were
subject to the same "zero tolerance" drug policy and were fired.

Clark, however, was reinstated by Akron's Civil Service Commission
last year. But after six years of appeals, a Summit County Common
Pleas judge ruled this week that Williams was not entitled to get his
job back.

What's the difference?

"Kenneth Clark is white, and much loved apparently. Elmore Williams is,
I hate to say it, just another black man," said Leonard Hazelett,
Williams' attorney.

Clark also received many letters of commendation from various police
officers and elected officials, including former Police Chief Larry
Givens, now a county councilman.

City officials have denied any racial discrepancy in how the drug
policy is enforced. In fact, the city administration pushed for both
Clark and Williams to be fired, only to have Clark's firing reinstated
by the Civil Service Commission.

The controversial decision to return Clark to the force came in a rare
2-1 vote by the commission and led to a debate over the meaning of the
city's "zero tolerance" policy. Mayor Don Plusquellic later issued a
memo to the city's safety forces declaring that he would continue to
fire any police officer or firefighter who used illegal drugs.

In Williams' case, Judge Brenda Burnham Unruh said the city is
justified in holding police officers to a higher standard than other
employees. She ruled that Williams' firing was "not improper."

"Although the court believes the plaintiff's dismissal was a severe
punishment, the court also believes that the plaintiff knew that his
choice to smoke marijuana could lead to the loss of his job," she wrote
in a six-page opinion issued Wednesday.

The Williams case has a long procedural history. The Civil Service
Commission upheld his firing in 1994, but Judge Michael Callahan (now
county prosecutor) overturned that decision on technical grounds. The
9th District Court of Appeals reversed Callahan's ruling, sending the
case back to Judge Unruh, who upheld the firing.

Williams' attorney said he may appeal Unruh's decision once again.
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