A career worth $108.14

April 13, 2009

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Little Rock police officer Mark Fisher lost his 23-year law enforcement career over $108.14.

That amount was the value of two items — a backpack and an organizer — Fisher admitted stealing in January while working in uniform off-duty at the Sam’s Club store on Bowman Road. He told investigators he needed the items for a granddaughter he raises alone after first lying about taking them.

An internal affairs division report suggested that Fisher, 49, was guilty of four violations of department policy as well as the theft: untruthfulness, conduct unbecoming an officer, misconduct and procedures for off-duty employment.

Every step in the chain of command — from sergeant to lieutenant to captain to assistant chief — recommended firing Fisher, internal Little Rock police records show.

“The very idea of an Officer (in uniform or not) being ‘guilty’ of misdemeanor or felony theft cannot be tolerated,” Sgt. Rick Kinney, Fisher’s direct supervisor at the southwest patrol division, wrote in a memo. “Officer Fisher has confessed to the theft. Only one disciplinary option is just and proper: Termination of Employment.”

Chief Stuart Thomas concurred that Fisher’s transgressions warranted firing. But instead, Thomas let Fisher retire in March after using up his vacation and personal leave time — a move that allowed Fisher to collect his pension.

Thomas did recommend that the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training revoke Fisher’s certification. The commission voted unanimously last week to hold a hearing.

Thomas declined to discuss his decision not to fire Fisher, an action final only when Thomas adds his signature under department General Order 211, which covers discipline.

“In order for me to respond to [any] questions, it would be necessary for me disclose and discuss information from an Internal Affairs investigative file which, by the Department’s long-established position, is not subject to disclosure,” Thomas wrote in an e-mail. “I do not believe that it would be in the Department’s best interests to violate this standard solely for the self-serving purpose of defending my own personal participation in the manner in which General Order 211 was executed in this instance.”

While information from the file is generally not considered public when an officer retires or resigns, certain documents become so when an agency seeks decertification. Told that records on the matter had already been released, Thomas left his position unaltered.

Fisher could not be reached for comment. No charges have been filed against him.

Fisher submitted his retirement letter Feb. 20, citing March 24 as its effective date.

Thomas waited to make his decision on Fisher’s case until March 23, Fisher’s last day on the city payroll.

Kinney had made his recommendation March 13. Lt. Ralph Simon agreed, adding his signature to the recommendation the next day.

“For his violation of the above Criminal Codes, General Orders, and Rules and Regulations, I recommend that Officer Fisher’s employment with the Little Rock Police Department be terminated,” Simon wrote.

On March 17, southwest patrol division Capt. Tom Bartsch and Assistant Chief Carlos Corbin signed off as well. Then the file sat idle for five days.

In his handwritten note on March 23, Thomas added his final decision.

“I concur that termination is appropriate; however since his retirement is effective today, action cannot be taken,” the chief wrote.

Thomas was, however, incorrect. Fisher remained a city employee that day and Thomas could legally have fired him, Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter said. But Carpenter said common practice has been that if an officer under investigation chooses to resign or retire, efforts to fire that officer stop because the problem is considered solved.

“What they could do and what the practice is are two different things,” he said.

Ten days earlier, records show, Fisher waived his right to an administrative hearing on the case against him and received a notice of intent, a document produced in the chief’s office that describes the accusations against an officer.

Had Thomas fired him, Fisher would still have retained the right to appeal to the city’s Civil Service Commission, but Carpenter acknowledged that an appeal would have been unlikely given Fisher’s retirement.

“Really, it’s a case where I’m not sure what you gain by firing someone if they’re already leaving,” Carpenter said.

In the more than 23 years since he was hired in October 1985, Fisher had built a reputation for himself as a solid officer who made a point to get involved in his community. He was the department’s officer of the month in February 1991, and received civic achievement awards in July 2002 and October 2003. Also in 2003, the Little Rock Rotary Club recognized him with a community service award.

In his personnel file were 63 letters of commendation from supervisors and citizens.

He had been suspended twice, once for five days in August 1988 after a collision. The department could not locate the specific reason for the other suspension, for three days in February 1988.

Fisher had been working off-duty at the Sam’s Club store since June 23, records show. On Jan. 30, a door greeter became suspicious when Fisher left just after 8 p.m. carrying a two-piece Swiss Gear organizer valued at $68.42 that she did not recall him carrying in when he arrived. A manager checked Fisher’s purchase history at the store and found nothing resembling the organizer, records show.

When store officials reviewed the surveillance video, they found that Fisher walked out the door carrying a Swiss Gear backpack valued at $39.72 four hours earlier.

On Feb. 5, Fisher met with Little Rock police detectives for the first time, records show. Asked about the backpack and the organizer after being read his Miranda rights, Fisher first told the detectives he bought them before Jan. 30 and brought them to work with him that day.

“I think — yes I think I did take it in there and go to the back with it to, uh — ’cause I had some personal stuff in there too,” Fisher said, according to a partial transcript of the interview. “I mean I’ve got — yeah I think I brought my bag in.”

He repeated his recollection several times, records show. Then the detectives showed him snapshots of his movements inside the store.

“If you would just go ahead and tell us what you wanted to tell us, Mark,” detective Rusty Watson said to Fisher.

“Due to some circumstances at home — I have a grandchild I’m raising by myself. She needed the items for school and I — and yes I did knowingly take it without paying for it,” Fisher replied.

Detectives found the organizer on the front passenger seat of Fisher’s patrol car. They found the backpack on the rear passenger seat of his 1997 Jeep Cherokee.

  1. […] what I ran into on this story. Not for the first time, sure. But this seemed like as good a case as any for a public servant to […]

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