A 3½-hour hearing of the Killeen Personnel Hearing Board on Tuesday questioned the fairness of the police chief’s firing of mechanic John Acker, who admitted in October to stealing from the city’s motor pool.
The five-member panel has five days to submit a recommendation to Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison, who has 30 days to reject or approve the panel’s decision.
A city employee of 18 years, Acker was one of 24 fleet services workers interrogated by Killeen police investigators in fall 2012 after police uncovered a culture of theft and mismanagement at the Fleet Services Division.
Four fleet employees — Fleet Services Director Kim Randall, mechanic David Riddle, Acker and another mechanic — lost their jobs as a result of the investigation.
Killeen finance director Barbara Gonzales also was fired in the wake of the fleet services scandal. Randall and Riddle resigned.
Both Acker and Gonzales filed lawsuits against the city under the Texas Whistleblower Act.
Acker’s lawyer, Bill Aleshire, asked the city Tuesday why only his client was fired if the investigation revealed that every fleet services employee and one police officer had participated in the motor pool thefts.
“Mr. Acker made some mistakes, but the mistakes he made were no worse than the others, yet he was fired,” Aleshire said. “He did not deserve the treatment he got, and that treatment was harsher than the treatment of other employees.”
Killeen Assistant City Attorney Jerris Mapes surprised the panel with evidence of Acker’s involvement in another theft in 2002.
According to a document, signed by Acker, the mechanic helped former Fleet Services Director John Strickland use city materials and equipment to modify Strickland’s daughter’s vehicle in August 2002.
Strickland resigned and was convicted of a misdemeanor in a criminal court, Mapes said.
Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin said Acker was read his Miranda rights before the interview, in which he confessed to removing scrap metal and oil and doing personal mechanic work while on duty without permission.
He also confessed to assisting Riddle in disassembling a hydraulic cylinder rack and loading it onto Riddle’s personally owned vehicle.
After Acker was placed on administrative leave Oct. 5, Baldwin announced what many have called an amnesty period, where fleet services employees were allowed to return items they had stolen without consequence.
Baldwin, who protested the one-week operation being called an “amnesty,” said he was surprised so much property turned up, including tires, equipment and materials.
“I felt it was a need, to mitigate the cost to the taxpayers because of the loss that was done,” Baldwin said. “We didn’t ask questions; we wanted the stuff back.”
Board members asked why further investigations were not performed after the items were returned.
“This stuff had been going on for years. Trying to weed through it was pretty much impossible,” Baldwin said.