The Nebraska Court of Appeals, in an opinion released Tuesday, reversed the Bellevue Civil Service Commission’s decision upholding the termination of Christopher D. Parent.
Parent, 52, had been a member of the Police Department for more than 25 years, mostly as a detective, but had been reassigned to road patrol. His firing stemmed from his performance during an Aug. 28 combat shooting exercise, which prompted fellow officers to report him to the command staff.
Parent was fired in 2007, after an internal investigation determined that he had not maintained a “high level of physical, mental and emotional conditioning.”
Bellevue Police Lt. Mark Elbert has said Parent, whose 2005-issued Nebraska driver’s license listed him at 5-foot-9 and 300 pounds, was fired under a policy that requires officers to be physically fit.
The court’s opinion states that under the Bellevue Police Department policy used to justify Parent’s firing, Parent satisfied the only objective standard imposed.
The court said he maintained “at least a ‘fair’ level of physical wellness pursuant to the standards contained within the . . . Department’s Wellness Program Manual.”
Michael Polk, an attorney representing the city, said that paragraph in the policy since has been removed.
“It was a policy that was part of an outdated wellness program, and it was removed because of that,” he said. Polk said it was standard for officers to self-report by filling out a sheet detailing how they stayed healthy and fit.
“It wasn’t something that was officially audited,” he said.
The current policy says, “Police Officers are called upon to perform a variety of tasks that require physical endurance and agility. This dictates that officers maintain a high level of physical, mental and emotional conditioning, which can only be acquired through regular exercise, proper diet and utilizing time.”
The City of Bellevue could let the case go — and Parent would be reinstated in a few months — or send the case to the Nebraska Supreme Court for further review, putting Parent’s job back on the line.
Polk said he was disappointed by the decision and unsure what avenue the city would take.
“Parent’s termination was reversed on a policy technicality,” he said. “This reversal is much like when criminal convictions are overturned on legal technicalities. It is ironic that an individual sworn to uphold the law uses a policy technicality to continue to ignore his personal physical condition, like a criminal using a loophole in the law to escape punishment.”
Steve Delaney, Parent’s attorney, said Parent is excited about the decision and eager to get back to work.
“He’s been a police officer his entire adult life,” he said. “He has been and always wants to be a Bellevue police officer and is looking forward to going back.”
Delaney would not comment on Parent’s current weight or detail what he has been doing since his termination.
Bellevue Police Chief John Stacey was unavailable for comment.