By SUZIE SIEGEL
The Sentinel-Record 7-19-1979
Police Chief Grover Douglas Wednesday demoted newly reinstated Thurman Abernathy from the rank of lieutenant to sergeant on the charge of conduct unbecoming an officer.
Although the disciplinary move goes back to 1977, Douglas said he had not acted at that time because Abernathy was still under investigation for a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of Garland County Sheriff Deputy Linda Edwards.
The charge was dismissed earlier this year and a Hot Spring County grand jury did not indict him in its inquiry into the case.
The Civil Service Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to end Abernathy’s two-year suspension. Commenting earlier on the reinstatement, city attorney Curtis Ridgeway said, “There is no active investigation into the matter and we have no choice.”
The “unbecoming conduct” charge stems from Abernathy’s admission “to me he was or had been involved with a female while on duty.”
He added that the charge was not serious enough to fire the officer. “After conferring with the city attorney, I don’t believe I would have been justified in terminating him.”
In addition to the demotion, which involves a $1,000 cut in annual salary, Abernathy also will be reassigned from narcotics work to the records and microfilm department.
Douglas said Tuesday that Abernathy’s return to work would probably result in a demotion for a recently promoted lieutenant’s position had been filled on the understanding that if Abernathy was allowed back, a demotion would occur.
Any disciplined officer has a right to appeal the decision before the Civil Service Commission for a trial or a hearing, the chief said.
Abernathy has ten days to challenge the decision. If he does, Douglas said, the commission will set up a hearing within the next 15 days. The commission has the power to override the chief’s action.
Abernathy could not be reached for comment.
His attorney, Jack Holt Jr., of Little Rock said his “information concerning the Abernathy demotion is sketchy.”
Currently serving as special judge in First Pulaski County Court Division, Holt said it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment on the recent developments because of his position on the bench.
The attorney is substituting for the regular judge who is expected to return to work on Monday.
“I’m currently sitting as judge and it would be improper for me to get involved until next Monday. I’m sure Mr. Abernathy and I will discuss the situation sometime next week,” Holt said.
When Abernathy returns to the police force July 30, Douglas said he does not foresee any problems with his coworkers. “He has about 12 years of experience, he is a good worker. His attitude was good and as far as I know, he is still liked by his coworkers.”