Evansville Police Officer Steve Hicks, the department's 2012 Officer of the Year and Field Training Officer of the Year is off of suspension. However, he could still be terminated by the Merit Commission next month. While he cannot come back to work until his case is heard, Officer Hicks will still receive a paycheck in the meantime, according to EPD officials.
He was suspended after allegations surfaced in September. Hicks is accused of interacting inappropriately with a female at a local bar. Investigators say Hicks was dispatched to Rick's 718 Bar for a noise complaint. A week later, sources and police say the officer came back on a self-initiated run. During both of those instances, police say the woman the officer was talking to was made to feel uncomfortable. As part of the investigation, Internal Affairs collected statements from witnesses and as well as surveillance video.
Officer Steve Hicks joined the department in October 2004. Before doing so, he underwent the same screening process as everyone else, including Sergeant Jason Cullum.
"When you get 200 to 300 people that apply, you get a pretty good pool to choose from as long as they can make it through the process," said Sgt. Cullum.
That process includes physical, mental and written exams along with an interview. After that, the Merit Commission makes the final decision. Applicants are screened for domestic violence charges and convictions, among other things. It's part of what the department considers an extensive and exhaustive background check.
"If there is nothing that comes up that automatically disqualifies you from employment," Sgt. Cullum explained, "or there is nothing that comes up that we've taken a second look at that we feel would be an issue, then you're given the opportunity for employment at EPD."
Prior to joining the Evansville Police Department in 2004, Officer Steve Hicks spent five years working for the Bowling Green Police Department. Through the Freedom of Information Act, Eyewitness News obtained his personnel file from his stint at the Bowling Green Police Department.
In a memo sent to the B.G.P.D. brass in the Spring of 2003, Hicks was placed on paid administrative leave in light of allegations of a domestic disturbance between Officer Hicks and his now ex-wife. According to the case log obtained by Eyewitness News, authorities were dispatched to the home Officer Hicks shared with his now ex-wife, Brooke.
During the March 26, 2003 domestic dispute, records show Brooke stated Officer Hicks, 'threw the TV remote, flipped a plate off the table, kicked and broke a door,' according to department records. However, Brooke stopped short of alleging Officer Hicks directed any violence toward her. According to department records, the incident occurred while their daughter was just feet away.
In previous arguments, Brooke stated Officer Hicks pointed his department-issued pistol at his head and threatened to commit suicide, according to department records. Records show Brooke had also stated that Officer Hicks threatened to commit suicide while on-duty in a secluded area of his designated beat.
Once they arrived, responding officers then helped Brooke obtain an emergency order of protection against Officer Hicks.
Two days later, as the internal investigation continued, records show Brooke stated that she and officer hicks had been involved in several arguments that resulted in officer hicks preventing her from calling 9-1-1. During Officer Hicks' interview, he told investigators he 'felt crushed' when Brooke stated she wanted a divorce and had feelings for another man. Records show Hicks admitted to becoming angry, admitted to his part in the domestic dispute and admitted to making suicidal statements "in an effort to make [his ex-wife] feel guilty," according to department records.
After the incident, Brooke also filed an order of protection against Officer Hicks. A few weeks later, both parties agreed to let the protective order expire which allowed Officer Hicks to return to work in late April 2003. Before doing so, however, officer hicks had to undergo a psychological exam, according to department records.
No charges were filed in the case. This incident occurred just months before Officer Hicks applied to the Evansville Police Department.
"There is a human factor in the background checks," said Sgt. Cullum. "Because you have the automatic things that are going to get you kicked off but then the other ones, people are going to make decisions like 'is this a big enough issue.'"
Citing privacy concerns and department policy, Sgt. Cullum couldn't discuss whether the domestic violence incident came up during Hicks' application process nine years ago. Hicks was hired under the previous administration and previous Merit Commission. Sgt. Cullum did say, however, the screening process is much more thorough now.
"What we want to stress is that we're not willing to accept that it's going to happen," said Sgt. Cullum. "We're going to continue to do what we can to prevent it from happening."
Officer Hicks has refused to comment. His case will be heard before the Merit Commission on November 15th.