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Fired Lakeland officers appeal to Chief Lisa Womack, demand reinstatement

6:33 PM, Jul 30, 2013   |    comments
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Lakeland, FL -- Two police sergeants fired in the wake of the Lakeland Police Department sex scandal say they want their jobs back and made their case Tuesday in front of the same chief that let them go two weeks ago.

Given community outcry to clean up the department, it may seem unlikely Chief Lisa Womack would suddenly reverse her decision. But the two officers involved were entitled to the hearings as a matter of due process.

On July 15, Chief Womack fired sergeants Rusty Longaberger and David Woolverton citing conduct unbecoming, failure to report misconduct and neglect of duty.

But just two weeks later, both men were back at the department meeting with chief Womack behind closed doors.

Both have filed a grievance through their union, demanding they be reinstated. Both men are accused of having sex with Sue Eberle, the woman now at the center of the department's scandal.

"It's an appeal process," said Sgt. Gary Gross about Tuesday's hearings. He called it a matter of procedure.

The chief, says Gross, spent a little more than a half an hour with each officer and will rule on their appeals between now and August 16.

"She's got some other important meetings to attend and she wants to take everything into consideration that they say," said Sgt. Gross.

Woolverton and Longaberger both deny any conduct that would warrant their termination.

Both are represented by Jeffrey Stull, a lawyer for the police union.

Stull argued in this case, as in other appeals, "Either the discipline wasn't for just cause or the discipline wasn't progressive or it wasn't consistent or it wasn't appropriate under the circumstances."

During all of this, the civilian advisory commission looking into the scandal lost yet another panel member.

Polk County's Hispanic Chamber President Ana Rivera -- citing personal reasons -- becomes the sixth member to bow out.

That leaves nine of the original 15 members.

The officers who resigned or retired in the wake of the scandal waive their rights to these sorts of hearings.

If Chief Womack decides not to reinstate the two officers, they can then take their appeal to the next level, the city manager.

If he declines, they can then take it one more step to an arbitrator -- whose decision by union contract -- would be binding.

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