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Ex-lawman wins right to job; Diversion should override theft plea 6/28/08

Ex-lawman wins right to job; Diversion should override theft plea 6/28/08

Ex-lawman wins right to job

Diversion should override theft plea

By David Healy

Memphis Commercial Appeal

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Chancery Court judge in Nashville has ruled that former Piperton police chief Carl Hendricks can return to law enforcement.

In a decision that could set a precedent for those in similar situations, Chancery Court Judge Carol L. McCoy ruled this week that the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST) erred in its decertification of Hendricks last year.

In 1997, Hendricks pleaded guilty to a felony conviction of theft over $500. Under state law, theft is a disqualifying offense to serve as a police officer. But Hendricks maintained his innocence throughout and said he only entered a guilty plea as part of a diversion program that would expunge the charge from his record.

The judge agreed, writing, “Mr. Hendricks’ case was not properly before the commission in the first place, because the expungement erased from his record the legal fact of his guilty plea.”

Despite the ruling, Hendricks said he will probably not return to police work. He now lives in Gallaway and works as a repossessions agent. Last month, Hendricks lost a seat on the Gallaway Town Commission board by one vote.

“It’s been a long time coming and I did this mostly to prove a point,” Hendricks said. “The statute says you are restored back as if the event never happened and that nobody can hold it against you. But, of course, people still do.”

Attorney David L. Raybin, who represented Hendricks in Nashville, said the ruling Wednesday was not just good news for Hendricks, but for others in his situation.

“There are at least 20 or 30 statutes like this concerning certification for many professions in the state, and now all those folks who lost their jobs because of expungement will be eligible to get their jobs back,” Raybin said.

Sharon Curtis-Flair, a spokesman for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, said they will study the decision and determine if it needs to be appealed.

The defense had argued that Hendricks’ expungement did not excuse him from disclosing his prior felony plea and that the guilty plea rendered him unqualified to be in law enforcement.

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin voted against Hendricks while serving on the POST commission and had previously stated he wouldn’t want to hire any officer with a felony record, whether expunged or not.

Collierville Police Chief Larry Goodwin said on Friday that his department has turned away quite a few applicants who wish to join his force because they have had expungements. He said Wednesday’s ruling is unlikely to change the way they look at applicants.

“We would stay clear of it,” Goodwin said. “Everyone who gets an expungement says they were really innocent.”