Appeal committee upholds Wilks firing |

Appeal committee upholds Wilks firing

Post Independent Photo/Jim Noelker

New Castle police chief Chris Sadler’s decision to fire former police Sgt. Edward Wilks was upheld Monday night by a four-person appeal committee.

The determination was handed down during a 31⁄2 hour meeting at New Castle Town Hall.

Wilks was fired Dec. 12 for giving the order to officers to kill what he and the officers described as a vicious dog on Oct. 15.

An appeal hearing was held at New Castle Town Hall Jan. 23. The hearing was designed to give Wilks and his Glenwood Springs attorney Ted Hess a chance to plead his case on why he should be reinstated onto the police department. Their pleadings were denied.

Sadler and town manager Steve Rippy said Wilks was fired because he violated a town ordinance that outlines how officers are supposed to deal with vicious dogs, for falsifying a report and for displaying conduct that brings criticism on the town.

The last reason for his firing was dropped by the appeal board, but the first two were upheld.

Wilks, who said he wasn’t aware of the committee’s decision until told by the Post Independent, expressed disappointment, but said he had already decided he wouldn’t take the job back even if he was reinstated.

“There were things that happened that let me know who is an honorable human being and who is not,” Wilks said.

He also said town officials were imprudent for letting him find out about the decision from a newspaper reporter.

“I think it’s incredibly tactless for the town to offer information on the disposition of my eternal life, as it would be, without verifying and insuring that I was made aware of that information.”

Process allowed the truth to be told

Sadler commented on the decision via e-mail.

“Mr. Wilks appealed his termination, and the evidence was presented,” he wrote. “The process allowed the issues to be brought out, and for the first time, the truth regarding the incident to be told. Based on the information, the panel made their decision and the termination was upheld.

“The panel drew a reasonable conclusion from the information presented, and I believe this conclusion to be correct. I find no joy in the termination of Mr. Wilks, or the hardships he and his family may now face because of his decisions. I do believe the action taken was correct and necessary based on the circumstances,” Sadler wrote.

Tammy Klein, owner of the dog that was shot and killed, said she was glad to see Wilks’ termination upheld and is glad that the ordeal is over.

“I’m ready for it to be over with,” she said. “I think the town did a really good job.”

Rippy said he was satisfied that the committee agreed with the chief’s decision.

“Edward was someone I knew and liked, so it was a difficult decision,” he said.

Artaz opposed firing

As of Wednesday, Wilks’ position remained unfilled, but with the appeal over, Rippy said the town would start pursuing a new officer.

Town Councilman Greg Russi, who also acted as the four-member appeal committee’s spokesman in Wilks’ appeal hearing, refused to comment on the committee’s public decision to uphold Wilks’ firing, claiming it’s a personnel issue.

Two other members of the town council, however, freely commented.

Town Councilwoman Christy Artaz, an appeal committee member, said she disagreed with the outcome. Artaz voted for Wilks’ reinstatement.

She felt firing Wilks was too harsh a punishment and that because he had a clean record before the incident, he should have received a less-severe punishment such as a suspension or a demotion.

“There were no other incidents in his personnel folder,” she said. “Things happen; the ordinance may have been misinterpreted.”

She also disagreed that Wilks falsified the report, one of the reasons for his firing.

“Things may have been omitted, but that doesn’t make it a false statement,” she said.

Artaz also said it seemed that the minds of some of the committee members were already made up before the evidence was presented and noted that most of the people she spoke to in town about the case thought Wilks’ punishment was too harsh.

“I feel like I followed what the people who I talked to in town wanted,” she said.

Mayor Bill Wentzel was also on the committee. He said he went into the hearing with an open mind, but felt there wasn’t enough evidence presented by Wilks and Hess to overturn Sadler’s decision.

“I do believe it was the right decision for the town,” he said. “I think it takes an awful lot of evidence if you’re going to overturn the decision. … When you undermine someone’s authority in that way, you’d better have a very good reason to do it.”

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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