The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled a 38-year veteran with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department who lost his job after shooting at another officer with non-lethal training ammunition was not fired for cause and is entitled to unemployment benefits.
The court affirmed two earlier decisions involving Robbie Amos from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development that Amos is entitled to unemployment benefits.
Amos said he is considering whether the three rulings in his favor about unemployment might make a case for him returning to the department or additional compensation, but he said he has not made any decisions about that.
Sheriff Mark Gorbett said jobless benefits were the only issue at stake in the appeals court.
“This has nothing to do with (Amos’) employment, and he’s not coming back,” Gorbett said. “The Merit Board carefully considered Mr. Amos’ case, and after he and his attorney presented their evidence, the board acted to terminate his employment.”
Dan Davis, who has served on the Sheriff Merit Board since 1978, said he doesn’t recall any instance where a terminated deputy attempted to regain his job after being fired.
“If Amos tries to go back before the same Merit Board members who voted to terminate him, I don’t see any way he’ll be invited back to the department,” Davis said.
Amos was fired after a two-night hearing in May 2013 when the merit board agreed that Amos violated six department regulations following a training exercise three months earlier.
After exercise participants removed their protective headgear for a debriefing, then-Hartsville Town Marshall A.J. Ross remarked how he finished the exercise without being shot, according to hearing testimony.
Amos — a certified firearms instructor — fired a low-velocity, lightweight plastic projectile from his simulation firearm at the marshal, according to the testimony. It ricocheted off a groin protector and splattered on the marshal’s upper left thigh, Ross said.
Ross was uninjured and refused to make a complaint against Amos. Ross resigned earlier this year as town marshal after being involved in a motorcycle accident.
After initially being denied unemployment benefits, Amos appealed that decision to an administrative law judge with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development last summer.
During that appeal hearing, Amos testified about several instances of other officers playfully shooting fellow employees in the same fashion, according to court records.
Testimony about the incidents was not offered at the merit board hearing, Amos said.
Last September, a judge ruled the sheriff’s department did not uniformly enforce its rules as required for a “just cause” termination, and Amos should be given unemployment benefits.
Although the sheriff’s department appealed the ruling to a workforce development review board in November, the review board also sided in Amos’ favor.
The review board concluded the Sheriff Merit Board did not consider how other deputies have been disciplined for the same offense, and the sheriff’s department failed to provide evidence that regulations are uniformly enforced.
In its July 30 ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals stated that it had reached the same conclusion as the judge and review board.
The court also denied a contention that as a certified firearms instructor, Amos should be held to a higher standard of behavior. In its decision, the appeals court stated no such written policy exists that calls for a higher standards.
The appeals court also determined that since transcripts of the Merit Board proceedings were not made available to the Department of Workforce Development judge last summer, the review board was justified last fall in not accepting them.
Although Amos was initially denied unemployment benefits, his eligibility for pension payments after serving almost 40 years on the department was never in question, according to both Gorbett and Amos.
Gorbett said he decided to appeal the Amos unemployment benefit decision because he did not think a deputy discharged for misconduct should be entitled to both jobless benefits and pension payments.
But Amos said he began receiving unemployment benefits last summer after the administrative law judge ruled on his behalf. The payments ended at the end of last year, Amos said.
“When you look at what I used to make through overtime and longevity pay, and consider how much it has cost me to appeal the decision, I think I’ve only broke even,” Amos said.
Gorbett said he and his attorney, Peter King, are now reviewing the Amos decision and will determine whether they will appeal the unemployment decision to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Amos, who said he anticipates another appeal, said he will make further statements as the matter takes its course.