By: Tara Blue
Chief of Police Gabe Edwards has filed a lawsuit against the City of Ashland claiming he was wrongfully removed from his position as Chief and has since been denied due process of law.
Court documents filed by Edwards’ lawyer Matt Uhrig on Monday Oct. 23rd state that he was removed “after it was learned by the City of Ashland Mayor and Board of Aldermen that Plaintiff (Edwards) criticized the mayor on social media”, making posts about the mayor’s criminal history during the 2022 election. The lawsuit says the removal was in violation of Missouri statutes, the First and the Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and Article I, § 8 of the Missouri Constitution.
In his lawsuit, Edwards claims that the City did not follow proper procedures. These include providing a written notice which specifies the charges to justify the removal, a statement of the facts which provide evidence of the charges, and the date, time, and location that the chief’s removal will be considered.
While Edwards remains on administrative leave and is still listed on the City’s website as of Tuesday, Oct. 24th as the current Chief of Police, the lawsuit also claims that according to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 106.273, being put on administrative leave functionally qualifies as a removal. Edwards claims that as of the filing of the lawsuit, he still has not been notified of the reason(s) for his removal and no investigation or hearing has been held by the City. Edwards says he has suffered damages, including lost wages, emotional distress, and injury to his reputation. He is asking the court to order the City to reinstate him as Chief, pay his attorney fees, monetary damages, and provide any other relief that the court sees fit.
In a recent press release, the City says that although Edwards’ lawsuit alleges that he has been removed from his position as Chief of Police, he has not been removed and remains on paid administrative leave until the investigation into Edwards is concluded. The City apologizes to residents for the amount of time required to investigate, but wants residents to be confident that they are taking the allegations seriously and handling the situation in accordance with required laws. The City hopes that the investigation will conclude soon so they can move forward accordingly.
Edwards’ lawsuit comes one week after former officer Thomas Whitener filed suit against the City, claiming he was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on Edwards’ alleged misconduct and abuses of his position as law enforcement, such as deliberately resubmitting his wife’s name to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Program (POST) after she left the Ashland Police Department in 2019, which allowed her to carry a concealed weapon in every state under the Law Enforcement Officer’s Safety Act, routinely accessing restricted information through the Criminal Justice Information System without a law enforcement purpose, then publishing the information under a Facebook alias, using racial slurs and other racially charged language, bragging that, in his role as the City’s IT support person, he looked through City employees’ email accounts while working on IT issues, offering to share nude photos of another city employee’s romantic partnerm and refusing or failing to perform some of his official duties, including city projects, out of “spite”.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Division of Drug and Crime Control and Callaway County are handling the investigation into Edwards’ alleged misconduct. Given the serious nature of the grievances against Edwards, the City requested an outside investigation to ensure an impartial and thorough investigation. In a verbal statement provided to the Journal on Wednesday, Oct. 25th, the Callaway County Prosecutor Ben Miller says he is currently working with MSHP on the investigation into Chief Edwards to determine whether or not charges will be filed against Edwards. Miller says they will make a determination soon.
Edwards’ lawsuit is the second suit filed against the City by the Chief of Police for wrongful removal. In 2020, former Chief Lyn Woolford filed suit against the City after he was placed on administrative leave by then-Mayor Gene Rhorer after Woolford refused to remove Rhorer’s girlfriend from her own residence during a domestic dispute. The City settled with Woolford for $112,636 and also paid his attorney, Matt Uhrig $24,863.
All questions can be directed to City Administrator Kyle Michel, email@example.com / 573- 657-2091, or the City Attorney Todd Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org / 573-352-4563.