City of Exeter considers canning police chief

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Public hearing to be held, likely in August

Following a closed session vote by its city council last week, the city of Exeter is considering terminating the employment of its police chief, Kenen Martinez.

Jim LeCompte, attorney for the city, said the council is considering Martinez’s removal, but that may only happen after Martinez is given a list of reasons for the decision and, per state statute, a public hearing is held to allow Martinez the opportunity to address the reasons.

“[At the public hearing, Martinez] will have the opportunity to defend himself or provide explanations for any of the issues raised,” LeCompte said. “He will receive those causes 10 days before the hearing to allow him time to prepare.”

LeCompte said the paperwork is still being put together, and the hearing will likely take place in August. It will be open to the public.

LeCompte said the city remains an at-will employer, and after the hearing, may decide to continue or terminate Martinez’s employment as it sees fit.

Martinez said he is not sure what the reasoning could be, and he was shocked by the city’s move.

“Me and the court clerk have had some disagreement about being late submitting tickets, but I did get them submitted and everyone attended court, minus one person,” Martinez said. “All of the summons were sent out or personally delivered.”

Martinez said he asked for reasons from the city council during the closed session on July 11.

“I was told I would get a list, but I explained I was upset,” he said. “I generally work more than 40 hours per week and I am at every city council meeting, even the special meetings.”

Martinez said no matter the city’s decision after the hearing, he intends to stay.

“I moved and bought a house here, and I’m dedicated to this community,” he said. “I’m flabbergasted by this, and I believe it is an injustice and I will fight because I want to continue serving the resident of Exeter. I have declared to the council my intent to fight this, and I am in the process of retaining counsel.”

Martinez said if he were to be let go, he would invoke his right to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court under state statute 106.280, which also accelerates his case to the court hearing it as soon as possible.

He cited state statute 106.273 as a rebuttal to the city being an at-will employer, as the statute lays out conditions for a chief’s removal, which include: being unable to perform the duties as a result of mental condition of substance abuse; committing an act that constitutes a reckless disregard for safety of the public or another officer; causing a fact to be misrepresented for any improper or unlawful purpose; acting in a manner for the sole purpose of self-interest inconsistent with the public or chief’s governing body; being guilty of a felony; or being deemed insubordinate or in violation of written policy.

“Situations like this are the exact reason that statute exists,” he said.

Martinez, 31, has been chief of Exeter for nearly two years, hired in August 2016. He graduated the police academy at 18 and began his first law enforcement job at 21. He has previously been employed as an officer with the Wheaton Police Department, as the Barry County jail supervisor and as a deputy for the McDonald County Sheriff’s Office for five years, where he received two national awards from the National Sheriff’s Association. He also currently a reserve commission with the Barry County Sheriff’s Office.

Martinez is still on active duty in Exeter, as he was not suspended by the city council. He is paid $10 per hour and said he caps at 40 hours each week, with anything over that becoming volunteer work.

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