Editorial: City right to dismiss officers after talk of killing fellow employees

Jul. 06, 2013 @ 11:47 PM

Everyone’s heard the sage advice that you should never threaten the President, lest you get a visit from the Men in Black.

It’s vaguely similar to the situation that unfolded last week in Pigeon Forge.

City officials were backed into a corner when an investigation into allegations into inappropriate actions by a police officer revealed an audio recording of three officers openly discussing killing some of their superiors and co-workers.

Based on what’s heard it sounds likely no more than idle threats or “blowing off steam” — as the officers said in a statement released by their attorney — but it’s purely unacceptable behavior.

Many have said ordinary citizens would have been arrested had they participated in such a discussion overheard by police, and that’s definitely possible. But because of its special circumstances, police officials likely treated the situation more carefully, consulting with the district attorney and others before making such a move.

It’s reasonable to think that they were advised against charges, simply because proving — beyond reasonable doubt — that the officers were serious would be next to impossible. As far as we know, the brief discussion — recorded when the officers obviously had their guards down — would be the only presentable evidence.

Proving beyond reasonable doubt that the officers were conspiring to actually cause grave harm to their contemporaries would be one thing; getting a conviction — which in this case would require that some action had been taken toward the completion of the conspiracy — would be another.

Though they may have been advised charges would be hard to prove, the city felt the officers had done enough to warrant them being fired. That’s the right move.

Serving as a law enforcement officer should mean holding yourself to a higher standard. Clearly the discussion these former officers were having was intolerable, even if it was just the idle chit-chat of workers passing time on a slow night. It’s a sure bet they had no reason to suspect anyone would ever know of their pow-wow — much like the criminals they’ve arrested over their years of serving the public also never thought they’d be nabbed.

In all, it’s a sad situation for all parties involved.

The now-unemployed officers have only the memories of their law enforcement careers, while the colleagues they’ve worked with at the city likely feel added stress caused by the circumstances. Officers are shifting their time to fill in for three departmental vacancies, and in the meantime some have a new element thrown into the mix: doubts about fellow officers.

With lawyers hired and statements being issued, we haven’t heard the end of this mess.