Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission v. Grimmett: When considering a peace officer’s law-enforcement certification, the Commission may conduct a character examination and is confined to its statutory authority.
Revocation of Grimmett’s Law-Enforcement Certification
Prior to 2001, Bryan Mark Grimmett was a state trooper in Alabama. In 2001, he was indicted by a Cullman County grand jury on felony charges of theft of property and altering computer equipment with the intent to defraud. In 2001, the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission revoked Grimmett’s law-enforcement certification via plea agreement filed in the Cullman County Circuit Court, wherein as a part of the plea agreement, Grimmett agreed not to work in law enforcement. But it appears that his law-enforcement certification had never been revoked.
In 2006, the Alabama Board of Pardon and Paroles granted Grimmett a pardon of his criminal conviction. In December 2014, Grimmett applied to work as a state trooper again, and was hired. In order to work as a law enforcement officer in Alabama, an officer must be certified by the Commission. Grimmett was hired but subsequently discharged after an examination of his certification status. In May 2015 upon request of Grimmett and a Cullman County assistant district attorney, the Cullman County Circuit Court removed the provision from the plea agreement, in which Grimmett agreed not to work in law enforcement.
In June 2015, the Commission sent Grimmett an “Official Notice of Revocation.” At the time of revoking Grimmett’s law-enforcement certification the Commission did not conduct a character evaluation (which can be a basis for a decision regarding law enforcement certification). Rather the Commission based is revocation solely on the rescinded portion of the plea agreement. The Commission held a hearing in December 2015 but upheld its revocation. As a part of its reasoning, the Commission considered that the Alabama attorney general’s office had been involved in Grimmett’s 2001 prosecution and subsequent plea agreement, but had not been considered in 2015 about removing the employment clause of the plea agreement.
Appealing the Commission’s Decision for Revocation
In January 2016, Grimmett petitioned the Cullman County Circuit Court to review the Commission’s decision, arguing that the work-restriction clause in the plea agreement was invalid and unenforceable, that the Cullman County Circuit Court had the authority to and did remove the employment clause, that testimony from the AG’s office should not have been allowed at the Commission’s hearing, and that Alabama Code (1975) § 36-21-52 (which calls for mandatory revocation of a law-enforcement certificate under certain conditions) applies only to felony convictions, not misdemeanor convictions or felony charges. The Commission responded, contesting Grimmett’s first three arguments with the opposite viewpoints. In June 2016, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Grimmett, ordering the Commission to certify Grimmett.
The Commission filed a post-judgment motion arguing among other things that Grimmett was not due to be reinstated because he must pass a character examination and undergo an 80-hour course. The trial court denied the motion. The Commission then appealed to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission v. Grimmett [Ms. 2150888 May 5, 2017], ___ So.3d ___ (Ala.Civ.App. 2017). The appellate court remanded the case for the trial court to revise its order to comply with Alabama Code (1975) § 41-22-20(1), requiring the trial court to set forth its reasoning for its decision since it did not affirm the Commission’s decision, before hearing the substance of the appeal.
Review by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
In reviewing the decisions of administrative agencies, the circuit court’s judgment receives no presumption of correctness because it is in no better position to review the agency’s decision than is the appellate court.
Aside from its reliance on the plea agreement, the only legal authority the Commission cited regarding its authority to revoke Grimmett’s law enforcement certification was Alabama Code § 36-21-52, which is inapplicable because Grimmett was convicted only of a misdemeanor offense, for which he was later pardoned. However, the Commission held fast to its contention that Grimmett’s certificate was properly revoked because he was bound by the plea agreement employment clause.
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found that in disregarding the trial court’s order in which it struck the employment clause of the plea agreement, the Commission had engaged in an unwarranted exercise of discretion and had clearly erred in view of the evidence on the record. See Alabama Code § 41-22-20(k)(6)-(7). The commission did not present any argument that it had the statutory authority to determine the validity of the circuit court’s order.
The Commission further argued that it had authority to revoke Grimmett’s certification due to his failure to meeting continuing training or education requirements. See Ala. Admin. Code, Rule 650-X-1-.15(7). The Commission may also conduct a character and fitness examination to determine an applicant’s qualifications, but the Commission did not do so in making its decision to revoke Grimmett’s law enforcement certification. See Ala. Admin. Code, Rule 650-X-2-.05(3). Because it did not exercise that authority, the Commission’s sole basis for denying Grimmett’s certification has its erroneous finding that Grimmett was still bound by the work restriction in the plea agreement.
Based on the foregoing, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment reversal of the revocation of Grimmett’s law-enforcement certification, but reversed the trial court’s order that the Commission reinstate Grimmett’s law-enforcement certification, finding that Grimmett had not completed the requirements necessary for a full reinstatement at the time his certification was revoked.
Similar topics of interest: When Are Police Officers Entitled to Immunity?, When Does an Off-Duty Police Officer’s Status Change to On-Duty?, and A Government Employee’s Pre-Termination Due Process Rights.