Pine Bluff, AR – A three-member civilian review board reduced a veteran Pine Bluff police officer’s suspension to five days on Wednesday, September 27.
Pine Bluff Police Officer Michael Merritt, who is also a Field Training Officer, had received a 10-day suspension for telling a rookie officer to “take his ass to the car”, according to the Pine Bluff Commercial.
Pine Bluff Police Chief Ivan Whitfield had suspended Officer Merritt for 10 days after the incident, and also took away his ability to train police officers as a Field Training Officer.
Officer Merritt had responded with rookie Pine Bluff Police Officer Jessie Valdez to a report of a person who had exposed himself at the Jefferson Square Shopping Center.
He said that he had told Officer Valdez to turn his body-cam off because the incident was over, and that he had told him three times to go to the police car before cursing.
Officer Merritt later admitted the cursing was wrong.
He said, “Everybody in the Police Department curses, and all I can do is apologize. I don’t have a problem being disciplined but I think 10 days is excessive.”
He didn’t even know that Officer Valdez had complained until the next day, until Lt. Edna Butler called him. He said that he also talked with Sgt. Bruce Gee, Capt. Terry Hopson, and Assistant Chief Kelvin Sergeant, who asked him “why he said what he did to an officer in training.”
Officer Merritt is a 12-year veteran of three departments, with more than six years at the Pine Bluff Police Department. He became a Field Training Officer in 2013. As a FTO, he was held to a higher standard than other officers, and received additional compensation.
He told the panel when asked that he had received citizen complaints before but that all were unfounded.
Chief Whitfield said that there was no mention of the word ‘ass’ in Officer Merritt’s written statement, and that two other officers who were on scene had reported that he had told Officer Valdez to ‘take his (expletive) ass to the car”.
He said that when he learned about the incident that his first instinct was to fire Officer Merritt but he knew that his “family needed the money.” He also said that he wanted to give Officer Merritt 30 days off but after consideration had reduced that to 10 days.
Chief Whitfield said that not only was the rookie officer affected, but also his brother, who is also a rookie, and the entire shift that Officer Merritt worked on. He has removed Officer Merritt from being a FTO, said he was a “liability”, and that they “couldn’t afford” to allow him to continue to train people.
Officer Merritt said that he could live with the panel if they upheld his 10-day suspension. He said he had worked hard to achieve the position of FTO but realized that he was a ‘liability’.