Judge: Return fire chief to job

Firing by Jerusalem Twp. trustees called violation of rights

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    A Lucas County judge has ordered Jerusalem Township to reinstate its terminated fire chief and reimburse him for all lost wages and benefits.

    The firing of Harold Stanton in March violated the chief’s constitutional rights and violated the township’s personnel policies and procedures, Common Pleas Judge Dean Mandros ruled Monday.

    Mr. Stanton was fired ostensibly for repeatedly allowing an unauthorized person — resident Jim Gray — to be at the scene of fires assisting the fire department. Trustees voted 3-0 to terminate the chief saying he allowed Mr. Gray to act as a township firefighter, to use township fire equipment, and to assist the fire department during fire and EMS runs “at least five times over the past three years.”

    The trustees claimed the chief’s conduct constituted misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and misconduct in the performance of his official duties and fired him.

    But Judge Mandros found that the three trustees did not take into consideration the chief’s distinguished 25-year career, as required by the township’s own personnel manual, when deciding to terminate him. The judge also found that the trustees’ role as investigator, prosecutor, witness, and judge violated Chief Stanton’s constitutional right to due process.

    R. Kevin Greenfield, Mr. Stanton’s attorney, said his client was pleased with the judge’s decision and eager to get back to work and restore a spirit of cooperation with the trustees. The attorney said he sent a communication to Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor John Borell asking when his client could return to his job. Mr. Borell represented the township in the lawsuit.

    Trustee Joe Kiss said he regret- ted the judge’s decision and “the trustees will have to meet and decide what next step to take.”

    Mr. Greenfield said his client had grounds for a federal lawsuit against the township, given that Judge Mandros found the trustees had violated his constitutional rights.

    “He doesn’t want to do that, however. For the trustees to continue this would not benefit anyone. A majority of the township is behind [Chief Stanton]. It never should have come to this,” Mr. Greenfield said.

    The dismissal, he said, was a miscarriage of justice. “They should have appointed an independent person to investigate the claims. They didn’t do that. This was something right out of the old Wild West.”

    Chief Stanton was in the news in July, 2010, when he took charge of the scene at an industrial roof collapse in Fremont in which a worker was killed and another trapped under debris for four hours.

    The chief was in command as part of the Northwest Ohio Region 1 Collapse Search and Rescue Team, which was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    Contact Carl Ryan at: carlryan@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.