ASHLAND, Mo. (KMIZ)
Ashland Police Chief Gabe Edwards has resigned from his position, as part of a settlement reached with the city, according to Edwards’ attorney.
The Ashland Board of Aldermen on Tuesday night voted 4-2 to cancel a hearing this week that would have determined Edwards’ employment status. Edwards’ attorney, Matt Uhrig, had told ABC 17 News in a Tuesday night email that both sides had “settled.” On Wednesday, Uhrig stated that Edwards stepped down on Tuesday, as part of the settlement.
Ashland City Administrator Kyle Michel said in a Wednesday press release that the city received Edwards' resignation letter at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Scott Young remains interim chief, until an appointment is made by the Board of Aldermen, according to Michel's release.
Edwards filed a lawsuit against the city on Oct. 23 saying that the city removed him from the job illegally because he criticized the mayor on social media. The case was moved to federal court. Uhrig told ABC 17 News that this week's settlement includes dropping the lawsuit. A case entry states that the parties must file a stipulation of dismissal within 30 days.
ABC 17 News has submitted a Sunshine request to learn of any financial agreements made between Edwards and the city.
In a notice of hearing dated Nov. 21, the city claimed “the grounds for the just cause termination” of Edwards includes accusations of:
- "Having committed any act, while engaged in the performance of your duties, that constitutes a reckless disregard for the safety of the public or another law enforcement officer;"
- "Have caused a material fact to be misrepresented for any improper or unlawful purpose;"
- "Have acted in a manner for the sole purpose of furthering your self-interest or in a manner inconsistent with the interests of the public or the Board of Aldermen;"
- "Have violated a written established policy."
The written notice claims Edwards “improperly accessed restricted law enforcement records by falsifying the need for that restricted information (and then publicly distributed that information).” That portion of the notice claims:
- Edwards added his wife and a friend to the department’s list of POST certified officers at a time when neither individual was a member of the police department.
- Edwards allowed an officer to remain on active duty after seeing them “suffer a mental breakdown that would cast serious doubt upon the officer’s fitness to serve in an armed capacity.”
- He made racially insensitive comments
The Board of Aldermen previously reviewed a memo from Callaway County Prosecutor Ben Miller that was sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol on Nov. 8. The memo stated that Miller felt Edwards could have been charged with misuse of official information for getting information through the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System for non-work-related reasons.
However, Miller wrote in the memo that he had not filed charges because the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control had not submitted a probable cause statement. Miller said he asked the patrol for a probable cause statement on Oct. 4 but never received one.
In a separate wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, a former Ashland police officer claimed in court documents that Edwards was placed on leave three days after he reported alleged misconduct by the chief of police. Edwards was not explicitly named in the lawsuit; however, the timeframe aligns with Edwards’ tenure as police chief.
That lawsuit claimed that the officer reported that Edwards had listed his wife and another one of his friends on the Ashland Police Department roster submitted to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Program, despite neither being employed by the City of Ashland. Documents allege the pair were included on the roster so they could conceal-carry a gun.
Court documents from the officer's lawsuit also allege that Edwards accessed restricted information through the Criminal Justice Information System “without a law enforcement purpose” and then leaked the information publicly under a second, anonymous Facebook account. The lawsuit also claims Edwards used racial slurs towards Black employees and allegedly offered someone nude photos of an employee’s significant other.
Andy Hirth -- the attorney of Tom Whitener, the former police officer who sued the city -- said he believes Edwards' resignation could help in clearing Whitener's name.
"The fact now that Gabe Edwards is gone I think is vindicating to Tom," Hirth said."But the city still needs to deal with the fact that they fired the officer who reported Edwards for wrongdoing in the first place."'
Hirth noted that he and Whitener are pleased that Edwards chose to resign without making the city go through a formal hearing process to remove him. However, Hirth said Whitener's main focus remains on getting his position back at the police department. The city denied any wrongdoing in Whitener's case, according to Hirth and the case is still awaiting trial.
Hirth said that Edwards resigning before the hearing could make a difference if Whitener's case is taken to trial.
"If the city forces Tom to go to trial with his allegations you know I think all of those things will come to light," Hirth said. "And you know why the city did what it did, you know I think will also come to light."
A motion for a change of judge was granted in Whitener's case against the city on Nov. 21.