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Chief appeals firing

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Investigation reveals insubordination
SHERRY LONG
The Ellis County Press

FERRIS - Less than two weeks after his clients were fired, Robert Haring filed a written request for an appeal of the termination of former Ferris Police Chief Jeff Cottongame and Lieutenant Sherman Swafford.

Cottongame and Swafford were officially fired from the Ferris Police Department on Nov. 15 at 2 p.m., following a two-month investigation conducted by Robert Hager, a Dallas lawyer hired by the city council.

Ferris Mayor Jimmie Birdwell said under the city's personnel policy the former chief and lieutenant have the right to appeal the decision to the council.

He said he did not know when council would review their appeals, but speculated a special meeting would be called to consider the appeal.

'Scott Born will make a decision of when the appeal process will take place,' Councilman Victor Burnett said.

Because he was the acting mayor at the time the officers were fired and because Birdwell was a witness to incidents investigated, Born will lead the appeal process, Burnett said.

Cottongame confirmed he and Swafford were appealing, but would not say anymore about the appeal.

'Speak to my attorney,' Cottongame said.

As of press time, Haring was unavailable for comment. Swafford did not comment.

Council members said they hired Nichols, Jackson, Dillard, Hager & Smith, Hager's law firm, to keep the investigation at a professional level, without having personal feelings or opinions stain the inquiry.

Hager turned over the results of his investigation to the city in early November and Born sent letters to Cottongame and Swafford stating they had participated in 'illegal, unethical, abusive, or unsafe acts; violation of rules, regulations, or policies or procedures; insubordination; inefficiency; incompetency; neglect of duties; falsification of official documents or records; and unauthorized or improper use of official authority.'

The letters, regarding the administrative inquiry, stated the two former officers had lied when they said the checks had been destroyed during the renovation of the police department, because the checks were later found locked in Cottongame's desk.

'Your actions also constitute operating a security business without a license,' states the letter. 'Furthermore, your untruthfulness during the investigation and in your dealings with the City Secretary regarding the bank records constitutes insubordination by not accounting for city funds during the annual financial audit.'

A separate account was opened by Swafford, despite him not having authority to open such an account.

'You also used the city tax id number to open this account,' the letter stated.

'You did not have authorization to use the city tax id number.'

Further research by Hager's law firm discovered check number 1249 was cashed for $250 from the Ferris Police Reserve Account.

The money was used to pay for non-police personnel to travel with Cottongame and another officer on an alleged training trip to Corpus Christi, according to the letter.

'It further appears that you cashed a check from the Ferris Police Officers Reserve Fund Account, number 05-2016-03, in the amount of two hundred fifty dollars, check number 1249, for use for an alleged training or conference trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, wherein non-police personnel accompanied you or such funds were used to pay for such non-police personnel to accompany you on the trip,' the inquiry stated.

The former officers had been on paid administrative leave since September until their firing on Nov. 14.

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Nelson Propane

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