Former chief and lieutenant lose appeal
By 12/11/2003 00:00:00
They maintain their innocence
The Ellis County Press
FERRIS - The termination of Ferris' two former top cops was upheld by council members in a special hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 9.
Former Ferris Police Chief Jeff Cottongame and Lieutenant Sherman Swafford appeared before the Ferris City Council to appeal their recent termination and request their jobs back.
After daylong testimonies from the officers and their supporters, Councilman Fred Pontley made a motion to reinstate the officers, with a 30-day suspension, but it did not pass due to a 3-2 vote.
Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Born made a motion to uphold the disciplinary action and uphold Cottongame's and Swafford's termination.
Councilmen Jessie Hernandez and Victor Burnett voted for Born's motion, while Councilwoman Lori Perkins decided to abstain and Pontley voted against.
'I think you all know Jeff Cottongame and Sherman Swafford. What type of men they are,' John Haring, Cottongame and Swafford's attorney had said in his opening statements.
'This matter has totally been blown out of proportion.'
Attorney Robert Hager, the city's legal representative, said only one signature card dating to 1987 had been discovered and it did not contain Cottongame's signature, yet he had signed many checks on the Ferris Police Reserves account.
Banks are required to keep detailed information on all accounts from the time they are opened until the account is closed, he said.
Haring said witnesses and affidavits proved Cottongame and Swafford had submitted numerous signature cards, which authorized them to write and deposit checks on the account from the Commercial State Bank.
Swafford and Cottongame said they did not know how the bank had received the city's tax identification number, unless someone at the bank retrieved the number from their records on the city's other accounts.
Swafford also acknowledged he opened a second account for fund-raising, based on the advice of bank officials in the spring 2001.
The account, Police Project Fund, was intended to deposit monies from a golf tournament to purchase equipment for the police workout room, he said.
The main issue remained the officers' operation of the Ferris Police Reserves account and the monies cashed on the account.
Off-duty officers worked security for the Ferris Independent School District and a lump sum check was paid to the Ferris Police Reserves.
The checks were then cashed, using the Ferris Police Reserve account, and according to Swafford disturbed in cash to the officers who worked.
Swafford and Cottongame said those policies have been changed because it is not in compliance with the Texas Commission on Private Security.
The officers maintained they did not know they were doing anything illegal and would use different procedures in the future if reinstated.
Cottongame and Swafford were terminaterd Friday, Nov. 14, after an administrative inquiry conducted by then-acting Mayor Born found the men guilty of numerous charges including falsification of official documents or records, insubordination, neglect of duties and illegal, unethical, abusive or unsafe acts.