Police Commission hears evidence to fire longtime Willmar law enforcement officer
WILLMAR — The Willmar police chief is recommending that a longtime officer’s employment be terminated after she has been unable to return to full duty for medical reasons.
The Willmar Police Civil Service Commission heard testimony Wednesday from Police Chief David Wyffels, who is recommending that Officer Marilee Dorn be discharged from employment at the city’s Police Department.
The commission did not take action on the recommendation, but set a Dec. 16 deadline for written arguments from the attorneys involved in the matter. The commission will meet at 1 p.m. that day at City Hall. By law, the commission has three days from that date to issue a decision on Dorn’s employment.
The commission is represented by attorney Bill Everett. Commission members are Dennis Anfinson, Cassie Akerson and Kathy Schwantes.
Dorn did not appear Wednesday afternoon at what is termed a civil service trial and told the Tribune on Wednesday morning that she would not attend nor make any presentation at this time, based on advice from her union attorney. She is also claiming that the city did not give her adequate notice, saying that the 10-day notice included six days of weekends and holidays.
Everett noted during the trial that he had received a letter from Scott Higbee, attorney for Law Enforcement Labor Services, waiving Dorn’s appearance at the hearing.
Dorn told the Tribune on Wednesday morning that any termination or discipline action will be handled through the union grievance process.
Dorn, who has been a police officer for the city since 1982, has been on leave since January. She had surgery in January and February on both wrists to repair damage caused, she said, by numerous workplace injuries and aggravated by the change in demands on her hands and wrists when her duties changed. She was moved to a patrol assignment after the crime prevention specialist position she had held was eliminated early in 2012 by budget and staffing changes. Her workers compensation claims have been denied by the city, she said.
During the trial Wednesday before the Police Commission, Wyffels gave sworn testimony under questioning by Brandon Fitzsimmons, an attorney with Flaherty and Hood, the city’s legal counsel.
Wyffels outlined that Dorn went on family medical leave initially and then was allowed to use all of her accrued sick, compensation and vacation time, which lasted until August. In September, she asked the Police Commission for an unpaid special leave, which was granted until Oct. 1.
Since Oct. 2, Dorn has not reported for duty, not informed the department of a date of return to duty and has not been cleared by her doctor to work at the level of the physical demands required of a police officer, Wyffels said.
Dorn said, in her statement to the Tribune, that she is still healing from her surgeries. She also said she has never been instructed when and where to report for duty and has been effectively locked out of her workplace.
Wyffels told the Police Commission that he cannot allow the situation, in which an employee is absent without leave and potentially unable to ever do police work again, to continue. He asked the commission to decide if Dorn should be disciplined or discharged.
“I can’t allow the inaction to continue. I don’t like being the chief of police in times like these,” he said. “(She’s) a 30-year employee. I need you to make a decision on my behalf.”