FOP, merit commission defend decision to reinstate officer accused of unfit for duty
Philip Houchin (Source: New Albany Police Department)
Merit Commission President Eddie Hodges
New Albany Police Chief Sherri Knight
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99 president John Hall
NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE) - An additional New Albany officer is on the street after the chief tried to fire him because of unfounded mental health issues.
Patrolman Philip Houchin returned to work this week following a yearlong paid administrative leave. Houchin is not permitted to speak about the circumstances because of department policy, according to Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99 president John Hall.
"He sought help for a minor issue he had and it was blown out of proportion," Hall said.
Chief Sheri Knight claimed an evaluation last year determined Hall was unfit to serve due to his mental well-being.
"That was the chief's prerogative," Merit Commission President Eddie Hodges said.
The merit commission rejected Chief Knight's attempts to remove Houchin citing his mental fitness for duty. New Albany's Police Merit Commission voted 4-1 to reinstate Houchin - a year since he was taken off duty. The commission also dismissed two other charges involving unspecified conduct unbecoming an officer.
Hall said Houchin confided some personal issues to a doctor. Chief Knight tried to remove Houchin after she found out about what Houchin said during a mental health evaluation, according to Hall.
"Now our officers don't have confidence in the administration because of how this was handled," Hall said.
Houchin, who's been a New Albany officer since 2005, has a clean personnel record and hasn't been reprimanded for any violations by the department.
"The merit commission had to follow the law and reinstate him. We found no bearing to keep him off duty," Hodges said.
Houchin's mental health issue or diagnosis may never be released because of privacy concerns.
Chief Knight admitted Houchin never had a problem on the job, but she told the merit commission at their meeting that she's still concerned.
Knight released the following statement:
"I am disappointed with the commission's vote tonight, and do not think it was in the best interest of the department, officer Houchin or the public that we service. I hope that the commission fully considered the potential risks and consequences associated with his reinstatement. I do not agree with the determination you have reached, but I will respect the commission's vote and reinstate Officer Houchin. I request that the commission require or permit the department to take steps to insure that Officer Houchin remains on his medications and continues in his treatment so as to safely do his job."
Going forward, FOP president John Hall insists the action taken against Houchin will have an immediate impact on the department.
"It's disappointing and frustrating because our FOP members may not approach the administration about other sensitive matters," Hall said.