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MTA officer with kid in car gets new hearing

A fired Maryland Transit Administration police officer will have a chance to get her job back after a Maryland appeals court held the police chief violated her rights by firing her without giving her a chance to be heard.

In its 3-0 decision Thursday, the intermediate Court of Special Appeals said Denita Evans will get a new administrative board hearing on the proper punishment for having interfered with the department’s investigation of a collision involving her police car in which her elementary-school-age daughter was a passenger.

The board had recommended her demotion from lieutenant to sergeant and a 30-day suspension without pay. But a week later, MTA Police Force Chief Col. John E. Gavrilis fired Evans without having met with her, in violation of her right to due process, the court held.

“At its core, due process requires the right to notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. wrote for the court in its unreported decision.

“We do not think the chief of police provided [Evans] a meaningful opportunity to argue against any increase in her punishment, if he had already decided to terminate her before meeting with her,” Matricciani added. “At that point, no matter how convincing or persuasive [Evans] might have been, the chief of police was not intending to change his mind. Thus, the chief of police violated appellant’s due process rights by prejudging her.”

Evans’ attorney, Phillip E. Hinkle, hailed the court’s decision Friday.

“My client’s due process rights had been violated,” said Hinkle, of the Law Offices of Kevin L. Beard P.A. in Catonsville. “My client had been prejudged.”

Hinkle, who prosecuted wayward officers administratively when he headed the Maryland State Police’s prosecutor’s office in the early 2000s, said police chiefs “for the most part do a terrific job” of ensuring the rights of those in their charge. But Gavrilis, in this case, fell short of the mark, the attorney added.

The Office of the Maryland Attorney General represented the MTA’s police force in court.

David Paulson, a spokesman for the office, stated in an email Friday that “the ruling is under careful review.”

On Nov. 28, 2011, Evans was involved in a car crash shortly after picking up her daughter at The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. Evans told the MTA police force of the accident but also called a subordinate officer to take the daughter from the accident scene, according to the Court of Special Appeals’ opinion.

Evans did not mention her child’s presence in the car either in her accident report or the automobile-loss report.

However, Evans did tell her supervisor the next day that her daughter was in the car during the collision.

The department charged Evans with several violations of agency policy, including having used a police vehicle for unofficial business and for interfering with the department’s investigation of the collision by concealing the fact a civilian passenger and potential witness was in the car at the time.

Evans was found guilty of both offenses at a hearing on May 30, 2012. On June 22 that year, the hearing board recommended that Evans be demoted and suspended for 28 days for interfering with the investigation, as well as a two-day suspension for using the police vehicle for non-police business.

Moments before her scheduled meeting with Gavrilis on June 28, Evans received a text message on her agency-issued cell phone stating she no longer worked for the police force. Gavrilis then told Evans at the meeting that he had decided to increase the board’s recommendation and fire her.

The Baltimore City Circuit Court upheld the termination, prompting Evans to seek review by the Court of Special Appeals.

Judges Kathryn Grill Graeff and J. Frederick Sharer joined Matricciani’s opinion. Sharer, a retired judge, was sitting by special assignment.

The Court of Special Appeals case is Denita Evans v. Maryland Transit Administration Police Force, No. 2364 September Term 2012.