Fired officer’s alleged drug use, poker acquaintances at issue — (The Joplin Globe)

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The Joplin Globe

By Jeff Lehr,  jlehr@joplinglobe.com

June 19, 2008

Joplin police Lt. Geoff Jones was fired this year because of alleged associations with known criminals at poker tournaments, a resultant distrust of him by the FBI in an investigation and a failure to disclose his use of prescription drugs, the city’s police chief testified Wednesday.

Chief Lane Roberts was the principal witness to testify at a Personnel Board hearing on Jones’ appeal of his firing.

The hearing was suspended after five hours of testimony, with the board yet to hear Jones’ side of the story. The board plans to reconvene the hearing at a date yet to be announced and then make its decision on his appeal.

Roberts fired Jones from his duties with the Police Department on Feb. 8. He was given a fact-finding hearing March 3 and later was given final notice by City Manager Mark Rohr of his dismissal.

Roberts told the board that Jones was fired for the following reasons:

Failure to notify the city of his use of prescription drugs that might affect his job performance, namely the narcotic methadone, the antidepressant Zoloft and the sleep aid Lunesta.

Alleged association with convicted felons through legal poker tournaments at J-Town Bar & Grill.

A distrust of Jones that developed among FBI agents and a JPD detective involved in an investigation of a criminal matter “of national scope,” in which Jones allegedly became “a person of interest” and was asked to take a polygraph examination.

A disciplinary history that included an oral reprimand by former Chief Kevin Lindsey for using a patrol car to attend poker tournaments at J-Town and a written reprimand by interim Chief Don Richardson for leaving a handgun in the glove compartment of a police car.

A lack of confidence in his leadership among Police Department staff.

Roberts said he was made aware that Jones was a person of interest in a local FBI investigation a few months after he became police chief last year. He said the issue of Jones’ prescription-drug use arose when Jones was asked by the FBI to take a polygraph exam in December.

The FBI later notified Roberts that Jones acknowledged use of the drugs during the exam. Jones had not previously informed his supervisors and the city’s Human Resources Department of such use, as required by departmental policy, the chief said.

“It is up to us to determine if a drug that may impair does in fact impair them,” Roberts said.

 

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Fired lieutenant’s appeal reveals link to drug task force probe — (The Joplin Globe)

By Jeff Lehr,  jlehr@joplinglobe.com

FBI suspicions regarding fired police Lt. Geoff Jones involve an internal-affairs file missing from the Joplin Police Department that detailed findings of Jones’ investigation of former police officer Frank Lundien about 10 years ago.

At a Joplin Personnel Board hearing Tuesday on Jones’ appeal of his dismissal Feb. 8 by police Chief Lane Roberts, Jones testified that the FBI questioned him in January about the missing file.

“I told them I didn’t know why it wouldn’t be there,” Jones said.

Jones said the two agents who questioned him at a local FBI office wanted to know who was “covering up for Frank Lundien” and also pressed him as to what he knew about local sports-gambling operations. He said he told the agents he was not aware of any such operations.

Lundien resigned Feb. 15, 2007, from the Police Department amid an uproar over $62,999 in alleged drug-conspiracy funds missing from the Jasper County Drug Task Force. Lundien had been the head of the task force. The FBI began investigating the matter shortly after his resignation.

Lundien has yet to be charged with any crime related to the missing funds. But he and his wife, Hayley Lundien, were indicted by a federal grand jury Jan. 24 and accused of concealment of assets in a bankruptcy case. Repeated Globe efforts in the past to obtain comment from Lundien have been unsuccessful.

Jones’ testimony linking his firing to the Lundien investigation came at an appeal hearing continued from June 18, when Roberts testified that Jones was fired for alleged associations with known criminals at poker tournaments, a resultant distrust of him by the FBI in an investigation of “national scope,” and a failure to disclose his use of prescription medications.

After listening to the testimony of Jones and other witnesses called by his attorney and the city, three of the board’s five members voted unanimously to uphold the city’s termination of Jones’ employment. Chairman Jim Fleischaker recused himself from the decision because of his familiarity with Jones, and board member Larry Myers did not vote because he was not present for the June 18 portion of the hearing.

The three voting members — Diana Fields, Greg Wilkerson and Kerri Cole-Still — issued this statement: “It is our conclusion the city of Joplin did not follow the sequential order for the termination. However, we do feel the termination should stand.”

They said that because Jones was not afforded the due process of a fact-finding hearing before Roberts’ decision to fire him, he should receive compensation for the period between Feb. 8 and March 17, when Jones received final notice of termination from City Manager Mark Rohr. A fact-finding hearing was not held until March 3, more than three weeks after Jones was fired with no further pay.

Jones’ attorney, Ken Reynolds, expressed disappointment with the decision. He said his client has the option of appealing the board’s decision to Jasper County Circuit Court. But, Reynolds said, he would need to discuss the matter with Jones before any redress in court is sought.

Jones testified that the FBI agents asked him to take a polygraph test the day they interviewed him, and that he consented. He said they asked him questions about bookie operations in Joplin, whether he knew anybody in the Joplin area with gambling problems, what medications he was taking, and whether he ever cheated on taxes.

He said the agents implied that the Police Department’s command staff had been “asleep at the helm,” letting Lundien’s internal-affairs file and the task-force funds disappear. He said he informed the agents that he had not served in internal affairs for three or four years, and that he did not know how the file could have disappeared.

“I said I did not know anything about Frank Lundien or his investigations,” Jones told the board. “They seemed frustrated with that and told me they didn’t believe me.”

Under direct examination by Reynolds and cross-examination by Beth Bowers, an attorney representing the city at the hearing, Jones acknowledged acquaintances with three men through recreational poker tournaments that he and his wife attended at J-Town Sports Bar, 2502 S. Main St.

He described two of the men as players he met a few times, one of whom he knew only by a nickname. He identified the third man as the operator of the legal recreational poker events at the bar, which amounted to tournaments at which no money was risked by participants and winners received only nominal awards such as T-shirts, he said.

Jones said his casual acquaintances with the two players apparently constitute his alleged associations with known criminals, although he was not aware at the time that either had any criminal record. He testified that he had stopped playing recreational poker early in 2007 and had not seen either of the two men since then, except when one wound up in the city’s jail a few months later.

The girlfriend of the man knew Jones’ wife and called her to ask for Jones’ assistance in getting him out on bail, he told the board.

Bowers had called Shane Dotson, the jail administrator for GRW Corp., which operates the jail for the city, to testify before Jones’ testimony that Jones had shown up at the jail and requested to see the inmate. While there, he let the inmate use his cell phone to make a call, Dotson testified.

Dotson described the jail visit by an officer for reasons other than investigative as “odd” and the allowance of an inmate to use an officer’s cell phone as relatively unprecedented. He testified that there were phones in each cell for inmates to use, and that their calls are recorded and monitored.

Under cross-examination by Reynolds, Dotson acknowledged that Jones helped identify the inmate in Municipal Court the previous day. The man had been using his brother’s name, and Jones informed the court what his actual name was.

Jones denied that he had provided the inmate any special consideration in going to see him the next day and allowing him to use his cell phone. He told the board that he served as the Police Department’s liaison to the jail, and that his duties included efforts to reduce the jail population by assisting inmates in arranging bail bonds. He said he had let other inmates use his city-issued cell phone on other occasions.

Bowers asked Jones if the FBI questioned him about his familiarity with a fourth man. Jones confirmed that the agents had, and that he had denied ever hearing of him. He testified that he later learned through the operator of the legal poker events that a man by that name might be a bookie for illegal gambling.

Jones said that after the FBI questioned him and before he was fired Feb. 8, the operator of those games called him about a burglary at his girlfriend’s house in Oronogo. The operator told him that the player Jones knew only by a nickname took some bets out with the alleged bookie, owed the bookie a lot of money and may have been responsible for the break-in at the girlfriend’s house. But, the operator told him that Oronogo police were wanting him to take a polygraph test, and he wanted Jones’ advice as to whether he should agree to it, Jones said.

Jones said he told the operator that he could not advise him on the matter and cut the conversation off at that point.

The fired lieutenant also addressed the alleged failure to inform the city of his prescribed use of the narcotic methadone, the antidepressant Zoloft and the sleep aid Lunesta.

He testified that he had been put on antidepressants 10 years ago after chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was prescribed extremely small doses of methadone two to three years ago for restless leg syndrome and has the prescription for Lunesta, which he uses two or three times a month, for occasional insomnia, Jones said.

He and his attorney maintain that he never tried to hide his use of those medications from the city, and that city policy has never previously been interpreted to require disclosure by employees of use of all prescription medications.

“In the 18 years I’ve been there, I’ve never known of anybody having to report their medication,” Jones told the board.

He said the doctors who prescribed the drugs assured him that they would not affect his job performance.

Jones testified that he nonetheless acknowledged their use on a form filled out for Freeman OccuMed in the course of opening a workers’ compensation claim in 2006 and reopening it again in 2007 with respect to problems he was having with carpal tunnel syndrome. But there was no testimony at the hearing establishing if that particular form was ever passed on to the city by OccuMed.

Prior investigation

Geoff Jones did not testify Tuesday as to the details of his internal-affairs investigation of former Joplin police officer and Jasper County Drug Task Force supervisor Frank Lundien in 1997-98, and he declined to answer that question after the hearing for the Globe, stating that he suspected the matter was not public record. But, Jones said, Lundien was exonerated of any wrongdoing in the matter.