A city appeals panel on Friday fired a Pine Bluff police officer accused of sexually harassing a female officer.
Officer Chris Powell originally was suspended for 20 days by Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, but appealed the suspension to the three-member review committee composed of non-uninformed city employees.
The female officer, identified as a “recruit” in the committee’s written disposition that was released Friday, filed a complaint against Powell on Jan. 13, alleging that Powell sexually harassed her and touched her improperly.
Powell was placed on administrative leave while two separate investigations were conducted, the first by the department’s Office of Professional Standards and the second by deputy police chiefs Kelvin Sargent and Ricky Whitmore.
In the complaint, the female officer said the incident occurred while she and Powell were in a police car and she was driving, but Powell said the car’s GPS showed that the car was parked during the time the alleged incident occurred.
A series of color photographs, including one that showed Powell’s face, was also part of the investigation, as were text messages Powell allegedly sent to the female officer.
After reviewing the investigative files, Hubanks suspended Powell, ordered him to attend and participate in counseling, and removed him as a field training officer.
In a hearing before the review committee on May 2, Powell denied harassing the female officer.
“I never made inappropriate sexual remarks and ask that you find me innocent,” he said.
Testifying in the appeals hearing, Hubanks said he believed that Powell’s action did not “rise to the level of a criminal offense” and that he felt there were good reasons to “try and salvage Powell’s career.”
In its written disposition, the review committee — composed of Assistant City Attorney Daryl Taylor, City Collector Albert Ridgell and Delois Williams of the city Street Department — noted that the police department’s policy specifically cites “forbidden harassment” as an example of cause for termination.
The committee also cited Hubanks’ statements that he considered terminating Powell but decided against doing so because he hoped to “salvage” Powell’s career, that he believed the female officer was telling the truth and that he did not find Powell’s statement to be credible.
Additionally, the committee cited physical evidence of inappropriate physical contact and text messages, and Powell’s admission that he asked the female officer out after hours “for dinner/drinks.”
“I respect the board’s decision, and I carried out the termination of Officer Powell today,” Hubanks said Friday.
Powell, who is the president of the Pine Bluff Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, could not be reached for comment.