Covington mayor fires police chief

With his department shrouded by accusations of brutality and other criminal activity, Covington Police Chief Richard Palmisano was fired Friday by Mayor Mike Cooper.

Barring a winning appeal by Palmisano, this will bring an end to a rocky relationship that began when the mayor took office in July 2011.

It was no secret Cooper wanted his own police chief from the start of his term, but Palmisano refused to resign, and the state Attorney General’s Office informed the mayor he could not fire him without just cause. Shortly thereafter, in October 2011, Palmisano was suspended with pay for 11 weeks after Cooper learned of a complaint that a Covington police officer was accused of abusing a person during a routine traffic stop.

The chief was reinstated in January 2012, but controversy continued to follow him and the department, including other complaints of brutality by police officers. As recently as a month ago, two officers were arrested for alleged misconduct in office, which Cooper described as the “final straw.”

On Monday, he met with Palmisano, and on Friday, the mayor fired his chief, saying he “must do whatever it takes to bring legitimacy back to this department.”

Palmisano’s attorney, Eric Hessler, said Friday afternoon that his client is appealing the decision. Cooper, meanwhile, said there is no timetable for hiring a new chief and that he will look into possible legal barriers he must go through before a search begins. In the interim, Capt. Jack West will handle all criminal investigations and internal affairs, while Capt. Chris Lang will be in charge of the patrol division.

Despite recent events, Hessler said Palmisano was fired without just cause, which prompted an immediate appeal from the ex-chief.

“We expected this,” Hessler said. “It was quite clear prior to the mayor’s election that the mayor had a desire to replace the chief with someone of his own choosing. Unfortunately, whatever the case may be, you need to have just cause to do so. We don’t believe that he did, and we have appealed (the decision) immediately. … (Palmisano) certainly stands by his decisions and the manner in which he handled them. Disciplinary actions were taken, and sometimes officers were booked for various transgressions.”

Palmisano served as chief for six years, coming to Covington after almost four decades of previous service in law enforcement, most recently as a federal officer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. His appeal will be heard by the Covington Civil Service Board at an unspecified date, according to Hessler.

Cooper, who addressed the issue during a Friday news conference, said he was not looking for a reason to fire Palmisano, despite the rocky start to their relationship, but after the recent spate of trouble, he said he couldn’t wait any longer.

“Well, it’s no secret I was outraged by the latest incident of alleged brutality and excessive force by police officers on citizens,” he said. “It just came to a point where I had to make a decision on behalf of the city of Covington and its citizens to terminate Chief Palmisano. …

“I had given the chief my full support to make changes and bring a positive image to the department and to our city. However, at this point, we’re in a position where that has not happened based on the allegations of excessive force,’’ he said.

After Palmisano was put on leave last year, the mayor said that the chief made some reforms. But he said that the end result has been a department that is having trouble keeping officers on the force and low staffing levels.

“And there’s an attitude and divisiveness over there that can no longer be tolerated,” Cooper said.