By a vote of 3 to 1, the Smithville Aldermen Monday night voted to place Police Chief Tom Stufano on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct lodged against him by Roy Ray of the Belk Community. In the meantime, the department's most senior ranking officer, Richard Jennings, will apparently be the acting Chief.
Ray has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against Chief Stufano, the Smithville Police Department, and the City of Smithville claiming he suffered injuries and that his civil and constitutional rights were violated during a misdemeanor traffic stop in February.
Ray's attorney in the lawsuit, Adam Wilding Parrish of Lebanon, came before the Mayor and Aldermen Monday night requesting the investigation of Stufano.
Alderman Jerry Hutchins' Sr. made a motion to place Chief Stufano on administrative leave with pay until the outcome of an independent investigation of the allegations against him. Aldermen Hutchins, Tonya Sullivan and Willie Thomas all voted in favor of the motion, but Aldermen Steve White voted against it, saying he thought it premature to be voting on the suspension until city attorney John Pryor had an opportunity to research what the city's legal options are in dealing with Stufano, whether the mayor or council has the authority to place an employee on administrative leave, and whether a third party, such as the TBI, should conduct an investigation with a pending lawsuit against the city. White asked why the rush? He moved that Hutchins' motion be tabled until the August 6th meeting, but White's motion to table died for the lack of a second. Alderman Cecil Burger was absent Monday night.
Alderman Sullivan said the city should act to protect it's employees as well as the citizens, but expressed concern about the seriousness of Ray's allegations against Stufano.
Some suggest that placing Chief Stufano on leave in this case would be no different than when officer Callie Matthews was placed on administrative leave earlier this year after she was involved in a fatal traffic accident on Foster Road, another case in which the city has been sued. However, it wasn't the council who placed Matthews on leave, it was apparently either Stufano or the city administration.
Ray wants a jury trial and he is seeking compensatory and punitive damages along with his attorney's fees.
The lawsuit alleges that "On or about February 23rd, 2007, Ray was operating his vehicle in Smithville and that Stufano, acting in his official capacity as a law enforcement officer, executed a traffic stop on Ray's vehicle alleging that Ray had violated a misdemeanor traffic offense."
The lawsuit further alleges that "during the course of that stop, Stufano utilized excessive force and assaulted Ray even though Ray posed no threat to the safety of the officer or to himself."
Ray claims he was detained, handcuffed, and transported to the county jail.
After the alleged assault, Ray claims "Stufano threatened to pursue criminal charges against him unless Ray agreed to execute a document releasing Stufano and the City of Smithville for any liability for the injuries sustained."
Ray says he refused to sign any documentation releasing the city from any such liability.
In the lawsuit, Ray alleges that "approximately five months have passed since the date of his injuries and there have been no criminal charges, warrants, or traffic citations issued against him and that as a direct and proximate result of the defendant's acts and omissions, he has suffered serious and painful injuries to his back and shoulder and that these injuries have required medical treatment."
Ray claims that "As a direct and proximate result of the defendant's acts and omissions, he has been caused to suffer great emotional, physical and psychological pain and injury, and has incurred financial liability in the treatment of these injuries."
Ray further contends that the defendant violated his civil and constitutional rights by using excessive force and physically assaulting him while he was in the care and custody of the City of Smithville Police Department.
According to Ray, the police department and the municipal government were negligent in that they owed him a duty to protect him and exercise due diligence in the hiring and disciplining of it's employees and staff; that the defendant breached that duty; that the defendant failed to enforce or initiate policies designed to protect inmates; that the defendant failed to adequately train, discipline, and monitor the training and status of it's employees in the prevention of use of excessive force; and that as a proximate result of this negligence, Ray was physically assaulted and injured."
Ray alleges that "Stufano willfully and knowingly arrested, detained, and incarcerated him for no legitimate or other lawful purpose; that Stufano threatened further criminal prosecution against him unless he released the city from liability; that Stufano knew these allegations to be false and yet proceeded to detain, handcuff, arrest, and briefly incarcerate Ray against his will; that the defendant's actions were out of malice, and or for no legitimate legal purpose; and that the criminal charges, warrants, or traffic citations have never been issued or sworn against Ray."
Ray is represented by Lebanon attorney Adam Wilding Parrish. Named as defendants are Stufano, individually and in his individual and official capacities; John Doe, parties to be determined; the Smithville Police Department; and the Municipal Government of the City of Smithville.