Judge in Elliott Suit Reinstated Dallas Police Officer Fired for Domestic Violence

Ezekiel Elliott and the NFL Players Association may have lucked out in drawing Judge Amos Mazzant for their Tuesday hearing.

Elliott and the NFLPA are arguing that the NFL predetermined his suspension, regardless of evidence and standards laid out in the CBA. The argument is not too dissimilar from one laid out by Jason Webb and his representatives when they were before Judge Mazzant in 2006.

The case information is laid out in Judge Mazzant’s opiniion over at Justia:

Before his termination in 2003, Webb was a Dallas police officer. On November 2, 2001, Webb was involved in an altercation with his ex-wife while he was off duty. He was arrested and charged with assault on a family member. See Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 22.01(b)(2) (Vernon Supp. 2006). On July 18, 2002, the Dallas chief of police suspended Webb for five working days without pay because he violated the police department code of conduct “when on November 2, 2001, you were involved in an off-duty disturbance with your ex-wife which resulted in your arrest.”

On January 13, 2003, in Dallas County Criminal Court No. 10, Webb pleaded nolo contendere to the criminal charge of misdemeanor assault from the November 2, 2001 incident. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the trial court deferred adjudication of his guilt, placed him on community supervision for nine months, and fined him $100. One of the conditions of community supervision was “no weapons or firearms.” Webb successfully completed the community supervision and was discharged on October 12, 2003.

On January 15, 2003, the police department began an internal affairs investigation of Webb. The complaint filed with the department stated, “Plead guilty to M/A Family Violence.” A second complaint filed January 17, 2003 stated, “Tarrant County DA’s office stated officer Webb has been convicted (pled guilty) to a class A misdemeanor assault charge (Family Violence).” On January 24, 2003, Webb gave a written statement for the internal investigation: “I, Jason S. Webb, . . . had pending Class A-Misdemeanor Assault/Family Violence case against me. On January 13, 2003, I plead No Contest to the charge. I received nine-months Deferred Probation and a $100.00 fine. The probation began January 13, 2003 and ends October 13, 2003.”

On January 24, 2003, Webb was formally charged in the internal affairs investigation: “It is alleged that on January 13, 2003, you were involved in adverse conduct when you were convicted of Assault/Family Violence.”

(…)

On February 14, 2003, Webb filed an “internal statement”:

“On February 14, 2003, I, Jason S. Webb, #7558, reported to Internal Affairs to review my investigation. On certain documents, it stated that I pled guilty to the assault charge. This is not correct. As I previously stated in my Internal Statement, I plead [sic] No Contest before the court on January 13, 2003, not Guilty. The difference being that there is no affirmation of guilt by pleading No Contest. Therefore all documents contained in this investigation that state that I pled guilty are incorrect. The plea agreement filed with the court also shows that I pled No Contest, not guilty.”

On February 24, 2003, Webb’s sergeant-supervisor recommended Webb be terminated.

While there is no “Article 46” factor with Webb’s case, it is the most similar one to Elliott’s that Judge Mazzant has ever ruled on. Employee accused of domestic violence, no legal record of guilt, is severely punished by his employer on shaky procedural grounds.

Judge Mazzant laid out the problems in the final few paragraphs of his opinion, courtesy of Justia:

The City’s April 18, 2003 termination letter meets all the requirements. It specifies the disciplinary action, discharge; it alleges the specific rule violated, sections 4.2 and 4.3 of the code of conduct; it states the specific incident causing the action, “You violated Chapter IV, Sections 4.2 and 4.3 of the Dallas Police Department Code of Conduct when on January 13, 2003, you were convicted of Assault/Family Violence”; and it gave instructions for how to appeal. The City could have alleged Webb violated section 4.3 by pleading nolo contendere to family violence assault, by being prohibited from carrying a weapon for nine months, or by having his peace officer’s license suspended, but it did not do so. Instead, the City notified Webb he violated the code of conduct “when . . . you were convicted.” With no explanation, the City now seeks to violate its own ordinances and base Webb’s discharge on an incident not specifically set forth in the termination letter.

(…)

After considering the entire record, we conclude the administrative law judge’s determination in Phase I of the hearing that Webb violated sections 4.2 and 4.3 of the code of conduct is not supported by substantial evidence. With no rule violations proven, the administrative law judge should not have proceeded to Phase II and sustained Webb’s termination. Likewise, we conclude the trial court erred in upholding the administrative law judge’s decision. We sustain Webb’s second issue.

Because of our determination of Webb’s second issue, we need not address Webb’s third issue asserting the trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law were insufficient

CONCLUSION

We reverse the trial court’s judgment, and we render judgment that Webb be reinstated to his former position with the City. We remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings.

Elliott’s case will be heard in Judge Mazzant’s Eastern District court at 5pm Dallas time on Tuesday.

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