Demoted Covington police officer appeals punishment

Covington police Sgt. Stephen Short is asking the Civil Service Board to revoke the penalty Police Chief Tim Lentz imposed on him after Short arrested two football referees at a high school game in October.

In an appeal filed Tuesday with the Covington Police and Fire Civil Service Board, Short’s attorney accuses Lentz of prejudging Short’s guilt in the Oct. 11 incident, misstating the facts of the case and imposing “totally unreasonable” discipline on Short.

Lentz suspended Short for two weeks without pay and demoted him from lieutenant to sergeant. In addition, Short is prohibited from seeking a promotion for 18 months and was required to submit to a fitness-for-service evaluation before he could return to work. As of Wednesday afternoon, Short had been found fit for service, and Lentz said he expected him back on duty Thursday night.

A controversy erupted after Short arrested two game officials during the third quarter of a football game between Mandeville High School and St. Paul’s in Covington. The incident began when head linesman Chris Gambino asked Short to move some spectators away from the sideline. Short and Gambino then got into an argument that ended with Gambino’s arrest. Moments later, Short returned to the field and also arrested the game’s head referee, James Radcliffe.

Both officials were booked on a count of public intimidation of an officer and were released on bail early the next morning.

The arrests made national headlines and led an association of football officials to threaten to boycott all games at which Covington police provided security.

Lentz, who took office four days after the arrests, joined Covington Mayor Mike Cooper in apologizing for the arrests and asking District Attorney Walter Reed to drop the charges. Soon after that, Lentz announced he was conducting an internal investigation into Short and Capt. Jack West, who was at the game and was Covington’s acting police chief at the time. West announced in December he intended to retire, at which point Lentz dropped the investigation into his actions at the game.

Short, on the other hand, chose not to present a defense of his actions at a hearing before Lentz announced the suspension and demotion. In explaining his decision, Lentz said Short’s temper “probably took over” and that he had brought embarrassment to the department. Lentz conceded that some law-enforcement action might have been necessary, but he called the arrests “unnecessary and improper.”

In his appeal, Short’s attorney, Michael Fawer, accused Lentz of lacking a factual basis for the punishment. Lentz’s notice of discipline “misstates the critical facts,” Fawer wrote. He also called the suspension and demotion “totally unreasonable and devoid of rational factual or legal basis.”

Fawer, who accused Lentz of having decided Short’s punishment before he even began the investigation, asked the civil service board to restore Short to the rank of lieutenant and award him any lost back pay.

The Police and Fire Civil Service Board hopes to hold a meeting by early next week to accept the appeal, board Secretary Tammy Bushnell said. At that meeting, a date to hear Short’s appeal will be set, she said.