A month after his termination, a former Evansville Police officer wants vindication. In an update to a story Eyewitness News first broke, Steve Hicks has appealed, calling the Merit Commission's decision to fire him 'arbitrary and capricious.' However, top officials at the Evansville Police Department stand by their investigation.
Hicks filed paperwork in Vanderburgh County Circuit Court on Tuesday asking for judicial review, according to court documents. Court documents also show Hicks paid $500 to potentially cover upcoming court costs, if necessary.
In the five page appeal, Hicks alleges the internal investigation that led to his firing was done in an 'arbitrary and capricious manner' and 'lacks any credibility,' according to court documents. Hicks also claims the EPD failed to meet its burden of proof and the 8 disciplinary charges filed against him were unsubstantiated, according to court documents.
Hicks, the 2012 Evansville Police Officer of the Year, was fired by the Merit Commission on December 16th after a 10 hour disciplinary hearing. Hicks was accused of inappropriately touching and interacting with a female bartender on two separate incidents in mid-September. Following an internal investigation, Hicks was suspended for 21 days without pay by Chief Billy Bolin. Chief Bolin also recommended Hicks be fired.
Hicks' termination came as a result of a formal complaint filed by Lisa Turpen, a bartender at Rick's 718 Bar.
"There's no reason for me to lie about it," Turpen stated at Hicks' disciplinary hearing last month. "I'm not going to let [Hicks] do this to another female. It's not fair. It's not right. He has a badge. He has a gun. He has a police car. He can pull over anybody at any time. You don't think I fear that?"
According to court records, Turpen alleged that hicks made her feel uncomfortable by his comments and his actions during two separate incidents in mid-September. Turpen testified that Hicks ran his fingers by the lace on her shirt near her breast. Hicks also allegedly made suggestive comments while at the bar.
Hicks, who originally was dispatched to the bar for a noise complaint, stayed at the bar for close to an hour even though the run was unfounded. During that time, investigators say Hicks positioned himself in an opening at the bar that's used by bartenders to travel to the dining area. Hicks also freqently went behind the bar, according to court records.
A week later, Hicks, who was also a field training officer, went back to the bar with a probationary officer. Investigators say Hicks did not notify dispatch, which is a violation of department policy.
During both incidents, Hicks claims the interaction was friendly and cordial and refuted the department's allegations.
"When I testified 17 days [after the first incident on September 10th], I didn't remember that I had physically made contact with [Turpen] five times," Hicks testified at his disciplinary hearing. "I remember where I physically touched her two times by escorting her through that opening."
Not long after being fired on December 16th, Hicks posted on Facebook, maintaining his innocence and thanking his supporters. However, Hicks also blasted the department, the commission's decision and the internal investigation.
"The EPD was a respected agency by many, including me. No more," Hicks said in his post. "Their [Internal Affairs] Division is a joke. Their police chief has no leadership ability. [Sergeant] to Chief, not a good jump for you to make Billy. The Police Merit Commission is a disgrace... biased, pathetic and clearly ignorant."
EPD has responded to Hicks' allegations by releasing a statement.
"We conducted an internal investigation and all our protocols were followed," said Sgt. Jason Cullum in a statement. "We stand by that investigation, the professionalism of that investigation and the integrity of the investigation. We believe any court review of the investigation will validate it."
Rev. Adrian Brooks, a member of the Merit Commission, also echoed the same sentiments, saying he stands behind his decision.
Hicks, who was known for his work in narcotics, still has many open cases in which he was an arresting officer. However, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann says those open cases will likely not be affected. Hermann says his office can always choose not to have Hicks testify.