Removal hearing date set for Exeter police chief
Chief rebuts city’s claims as grounds for just cause termination
A date has been set for the hearing to consider removal of Exeter Police Chief Kenen Martinez, and Martinez claims the city’s reasonings for just cause for removal does not meet state statute, and in some cases, are untrue.
Martinez received a notice from the city on July 31 informing him the hearing, which City Attorney Jim LeCompte said will be open to the public, will be held on Aug. 17 at 3:30 p.m. at city hall.
The letter also laid out the city’s reasoning and findings of just cause for Martinez’s removal, claims Martinez says do not meet the state statute for removal of a police chief.
There are five sections in the city’s notice regarding reasons for the chief’s removal, including misuse of city funds, dereliction of duty, acting in a manner for the sole purpose of furthering self interest or inconsistent with the interests of the governing body or public, threatening and harassing of city employees, and insubordination.
The misuse of city funds section details alleged spending by Martinez dating back to February 2017, when he spent $248.88 on a phone, phone card and SD card. The notice said the items were bought with the city’s Walmart credit card, and Martinez paid the city back the full amount over an 11-month period.
“My argument to that is there is no city policy,” Martinez said. “The city has a budget, but no department stays within the budget. There is no approval process for expenditures, and I use all those items for city business. I was told early on if I needed something and there was a question to go make the purchase, and if I need to pay it back, I would have to pay it back.”
A purchase of dress slacks in April 2017, costing $179.95, is also listed in the notice.
“I bought the uniform for attending [the late] Barry County deputy Carl Cosper’s funeral, and I also use it for when I should be in full uniform, like in court or at city council meetings.”
The city said in November 2017, multiple badges were purchased without city approval, to the tune of $870, with an invoice being mailed to the city.
“Martinez informed the city clerk that he would take care of it and have the bill changed over to his name. To date, this has not happened, and the city is still in arrears.”
Martinez said he has told the company the badges were a personal purchase and should not be mailed to the city, and he is still working to remedy the company’s billing issue.
A fourth claim of misuse of funds was in June 2018, when Martinez allegedly bought $139.18 in personal auto parts for his truck without approval.
“The city clerk was not informed of the charge until Kenen brought the bill and money in to pay for it on July 9,” the notice said.
“I notified Myrna [Eisenbraun, Exeter city clerk], of the purchase,” Martinez said. “It was for wiring for lights on my personal vehicle, which I use to respond to calls when the city vehicle is down.”
Another claim includes an $81.72 expenditure at Sports World on July 5 for five printed shirts. The city said Sports World called on July 27 asking for payment, and Eisenbraun asked for an invoice, as the city was unaware of the charge.
“All my shirts were two years old and were starting to get holes in them,” Martinez said. “I need something resembling a uniform that identifies myself as a police officer.”
Lastly, the city claims according to the minutes of the June 14, 2017, council meeting, a purchase of two tasers at a cost of $500 each was approved, with Martinez to pay the city to keep one of the tasers as his own. The city said when the bill was received, Martinez had misled the council and the actual cost of the tasers was $2,913.69, with yearly payments to be made. To date, Martinez has paid $335.
“I did not mislead the council,” Martinez said. “They asked what it would cost and I said $500 per year. They did not look at the quote. Up until March, I had presented council with 5-page reports at each meeting, detailing tickets issued, crime in the area and cases I was working on. In March, I was told I did not need to attend council meetings anymore because my reports were so long, they didn’t want to listen, so I switched to a one-page report. After we received a donation of a houseboat worth $10,000, I had mentioned to the council having tasers would help the police department have an interim force option.
In the dereliction of duty section, the city said Martinez had not completed Uniform Crime Reports paperwork properly, with six months of 2017 and six months of 2018 still missing, and the failure to do so prevents the city from obtaining state and federal grants.
Martinez said he is behind on the paperwork, as the majority of his time is spent out in the field.
“I haven’t filed the reports timely,” he said. “In the April, May and June council meetings, I told the council I was taking more than 105 calls per month and asked for help so the work could be done. I can’t devote the time I have to everything that’s needed. The council said no paid employees, and they approved Cody Stephens for an honorary commission and reserve status at no pay.”
Evidence and paperwork storage is also an issue in the city’s notice, claiming things like evidence, confiscated possessions and confidential files were being stored in the open with public access. In July, the notice said, Martinez took some of such items to the city’s community building, and they remained there from July 8-27 unprotected. The notice also claims the back door of the building was found to be unlocked on July 18 while Martinez was away or training July 16-20, and it was unknown how long the door had been unlocked. A group rented and used the building for a function while the boxes were housed there, and the report claims as of the time it was sent, files, evidence and confiscated goods remain out in the open in city hall.
Martinez said with a small office in city hall and state requirements to keep some paperwork for three years per the Sunshine Law, he has been begging for more storage space.
“I managed to obtain office space on East Commercial at no cost, and the council approved it but the mayor, [Rusty Reed], and [Eisenbraun] told me they didn’t want me using any space outside of city hall, and that I should only be writing tickets and enforcing ordinances, not dealing with any major crimes. Also, no evidence was ever left out in the open. I have a safe in my office where things are kept.
“The community building had files in it, most of which are easily obtainable by the Sunshine Law. I have no storage space for all of these files.”
The third portion of the notice, claiming Martinez acted in a manner for the sole purpose of furthering self interest or inconsistent with the interests of the governing body or public, accuses the chief of slandering city employees.
“[Martinez has said] Public Works employee Marty Robbins is drinking on the clock and operating equipment under the influence of drugs (Marty is legally prescribed Xanax),” the report said.
Martinez said he has heard Robbins has bought alcohol at a local convenience store and told the cashier he was “going backroading.” Martinez said this occurred while Robbins was off the clock, and he informed the Barry County Sheriff’s Office about it because of possible driving while intoxicated. Martinez also said he has never mentioned the Xanax, but operating equipment while on a legal prescription still constitutes DWI — drugs.
The section also claims Martinez has said members of the city council are under investigation with the sheriff’s office, which Martinez denied saying; that Martinez has repeatedly called Councilman Keith Johnson and harassed his wife, making accusations of having some “good dirt” on two other council members; and that Martinez has harassed the mayor with threats to sue the city and get “nasty” at the hearing, even though he is aware Reed is ill and weak from ongoing medical issues.
“The harassment they talk about is me going through the right channels because of nepotism I believe is happening in the city government,” Martinez said. “I made an effort to not speak to the mayor because I knew about his condition, so I went to the councilman because I knew [Reed] was ill. I did talk to the mayor at one point, asking if he was up to talking city business, and I had planned to propose a severance package. But, before I could say discuss the details, he told me I could resign or be fired, and the hearing is just a formality. I also never said any city council members were under any investigations.”
In section four, threatening and harassing city employees, the city said Martinez told a deputy on July 10 he would “ask all deputies to stop and harass every Robbins they saw.” The Exeter court clerk filed a police report on the incident and asked the deputy to whom Martinez made the statement be allowed to appear at the hearing to corroborate the report.
[The incident occurred following a council meeting when I was upset], and I talked to a sergeant and told him I was tired of keeping all the Robbins’ secrets because of how many times I got calls concerning them,” Martinez said. “I said, ‘Most Robbins, referring to two, drink and drive,’ and one was investigated for an intoxicated fight in the street on Highway MM where another person was arrested.”
On July 26, Exeter Judge Sarah Weber called the court clerk and informed her Martinez had called earlier concerning the clerk allegedly signing warrants illegally. The notice said the warrants are legally signed with the judge’s permission, that it has been agreed upon as law and is no way illegal or improper.
Martinez said most warrants are signed by the city clerk, and was told by a representative the Office of the State Courts Administrator the practice is not illegal, but is also not in the spirit of the law.
The section also claims Martinez made a threatening statement, overheard by Eisenbraun, to the court clerk, telling her to “Be prepared for what’s coming next.” The clerk applied for an ex parte against Martinez, which was denied and a hearing date is pending. A report on the incident, along with a report on the police property not secured, has been made to the sheriff’s office.
“When I said, ‘Be prepared for what’s coming next,’ I meant it in reference to a possible lawsuit, the hearing and bitterness in town,” Martinez said. “It was not a threat. And, the clerk applied for the ex parte as a cheap way to get me out of my job, because if it was granted, I could not carry a firearm and, therefore, could not be a police officer.”
In the final section of the notice, saying Martinez has been deemed insubordinate to the directions of the city council, the city claims the chief has repeatedly disobeyed council’s directions in regards to spending city funds without authorization by the council or mayor.
The section also delves into an incident on May 24 where the private security company, Southern Missouri Judicial Services, was raided in Springfield, and the city claims a “lost badge” of Martinez was confiscated in the raid and Tim Brenner, owner of company, was on the Exeter Police Department roster. The notice said Martinez told the city he had removed Brenner, but as of July 10, Brenner was still on it.
“Martinez also stated loaning out a badge was a common police practice, and he was not concerned about it,” the notice said. “the fact of the matter is, he never got his badge back, and as a result, he bought not only another badge for himself, but multiple badges for reserves in the name of the Exeter Police Department. This is still being billed to the city and has had only one $100 payment in over a year.”
Other badges, the notice said, were purchased for five individuals, costing $970. One of the other five, Martinez said, was another Struble appointee confirmed by the council with no expiration.
Martinez said Brenner was appointed by former Police Chief Morgan Struble, was approved by the city council and has no expiration on his city commission, nor has he done any work in the city.
“I gave him my personal badge for him to do security work in Branson, which he was qualified to do with our commission,” Martinez said. “The badge was only confiscated because it had my name on it, and there are no charges pending regarding the badge. It was a valid badge because of the commission. Other officers wear badges with no numbers or names on them, and I have done it myself in the past. The $100 that has been paid was also paid by me.”
Martinez said the badge purchase issue relates to the company billing the city instead of him, and the five extra badges were for those who have city commissions and do work inside city limits. He also said those others he commissioned must be recommissioned annually, verses having no expiration. Martinez said at least one portion of the city’s notice in the narrative is wholly false.
“Saying I ordered new badges because mine was confiscated is an out-and-out lie,” he said. “The one I loaned was my personal badge, and I still had a city badge. Occasionally, I had both on me.”
The hearing on Aug. 17 will allow Martinez to speak on his own behalf about the city’s notice and rebut the claims made. LeCompte said the meeting will be open to the public, but Martinez said the city is trying to make it closed, citing it as a personnel matter.
In a public post on his personal Facebook page, Martinez said he intends to waive his right to a closed hearing.
“I am openly, intelligently and willfully, waiving my right to a closed hearing or closed session,” he wrote. “I will not sue nor threaten legal action for opening the session to the public. While I reserve the right to other legal recourse and action, I will stipulate I will not use opening the hearing as a part of a suit or legal action. I further am willing to put that in writing and before a notary. I believe in transparency in government and in local government. I believe Law Enforcement is no different. I intend on allowing full access to the accusations presented.
“I know now that there are three votes against me. I have been informed, twice now, that this hearing is but a mere formality. That August 18th, 2018, I will not be your Chief of Police; and the police service I created will most likely crumble.”
LeCompte said the city of Exeter maintains an at-will employer status and could fire Martinez with no reasoning, but Martinez said per state statute, that is not true.
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 has 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.