A client recently came to my firm needing legal help to resolve a situation affecting his career and reputation in law enforcement. This client was somewhat unusual for my firm because more typically, we defend people facing criminal charges made by overzealous law enforcement officers. We have represented some very good folks who had horrendous experiences when they were targeted for criminal investigations. Here, however, the client was a small-town police officer who wanted to devote his career to honorably helping the community. I reviewed the facts surrounding his separation from the police force and concluded that he had done absolutely nothing that justified his being branded with a scarlet letter, so I accepted him as a client.
In Texas, when a police officer resigns or is fired, the police chief must send what is called an “F-5 Report” to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE). This F-5 Report characterizes an officer’s discharge from his or her law enforcement agency as either “Honorable,” “General,” or “Dishonorable.” As you would suspect, a Dishonorable Discharge is horrible. But, oddly enough, a General Discharge can be almost as bad, because it implies that significant misconduct played a role in the separation.
This particular police officer had unexpectedly received a General Discharge, which effectively made him unemployable as a police officer anywhere in the state of Texas. To deny further employment in law enforcement to officers who have abused their power is a good thing. However, I realized after I met and talked with this man that he was a good police officer – law enforcement was his true calling, and he was in it for the right reasons. This man wanted to serve and contribute to his community – and was willing to accept the long hours, low pay, and risk of injury or even death – but this undeserved General Discharge would be the kiss of death for his chosen lifetime career.
After my firm’s initial attempt to change the outcome at the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) was unsuccessful, we filed suit for a declaratory judgment and related relief in Travis County Court. Once our client’s former law enforcement agency had an attorney, we were able to quickly negotiate a very favorable outcome—the agency voluntarily corrected the reason for our client’s departure to an Honorable Discharge.
With this favorable status in hand, my client is confident that he will be able to remain in his chosen field and continue to serve his community. This was not particularly high-dollar litigation, but nevertheless it felt very satisfying to pursue and win justice and change someone’s life for the better.