Merit Commission Fires Veteran EPD Officer After Lengthy, Tense Hearing

In an update to a story Eyewitness News first reported, the Evansville Police Merit Commission has decided to terminate Officer Steve Hicks, the department's reigning Officer of the Year. Hicks was accused of inappropriately touching a female bartender while on-duty.

The Evansville Police Merit Commission has decided to terminate Officer Steve Hicks, the department's reigning Officer of the Year and Field Training Officer of the year.

The Merit Commission ruled around 7:30 p.m. Monday in the case of Officer Steve Hicks. Hicks was accused of inappropriately touching and interacting with a female bartender while on duty in mid-September. Chief Billy Bolin already suspended Hicks for 21 days without pay and recommended that Hicks be fired. The decision capped off a marathon hearing that lasted more than 10 hours.

Before anything started Monday morning, one of the Merit Commissioners had to recuse himself, likely because of a conflict of interest with this case. It proved to be a moot point as the two other Merit Commissioners voted unanimously to terminate Hicks' employment with the Evansville Police Department.

Close to two dozen people were in attendance including some friends and family of the accused officer.

The hearing started around 9:15 Monday morning. The first witness called upon by the City was Lisa Turpen. Turpen was the bartender who filed the complaint against Hicks. She told the commission that on September 10th, Hicks repeatedly touched her inappropriately. Turpen said Hicks grabbed the lace around her tank top near her chest and made some suggestive comments. Tuprpen also said Hicks repeatedly went behind the bar and positioned himself in a way that allowed him to touch the small of her back and sides as she walked by. Hicks also stared at Turpen's breasts, according to Turpen. Furthermore, Hicks was at the bar for close to an hour even though he was dispatched there for merely a noise complaint.

The Merit Commission's decision sparked very different reactions from the two parties.

"You got to do what's right," Turpen said. "It was very, very hard but you have to do what's right in your heart. And if I can stop him from doing it to one more female, that's what I will continue to do."

"It is very disappointing that they did not attempt to use graduated discipline even if they found him guilty on all eight charges," said Charles Braun, Hicks' co-counsel. "By the way, we object to the charges and the findings that our client committed a battery."

Hicks himself refused to comment and instead directed all questions to his attorney. Braun says Hicks has the right to appeal the Merit Commission's decision all the way to the state level for a judicial review. Hicks does not face any criminal charges but is now without a job at the Evansville Police Department.

Throughout his testimony, Hicks repeatedly denied the allegations against him. The day was filled with some tense exchanges between the attorneys representing both sides.

After the lunch break, the City called a probationary officer to testify. The probationary officer was with Officer Hicks on September 17th, the night of the second reported incident. This testimony proved to be some of the most compelling testimony of the day.
The probationary officer testified against Hicks, his field training officer. The probationary officer testified that Hicks wanted to stop by the bar on September 17th because, 'there was a hot bartender there,' according to testimony. The internal investigation later revealed that Hicks did not notify Central Dispatch before going on this self-initiated run, which is a significant violation of EPD's standard operation procedure. The probationary officer also testified that Hicks' interaction with the female bartender made him feel uncomfortable.

Chief Bolin also testified and said Hicks neglected his duties as an Evansville Police Officer and abused his power.

Throughout today's proceedings, Hicks' attorneys have tried to discredit the witnesses and the internal investigation as a whole. Hicks' counsel says the case is a matter of 'he said, she said.'

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