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Fired Thayer police officer sues city

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Former assistant Thayer police chief Michael Bunting, who was fired in October, filed a civil suit Nov. 28 seeking his job and lost wages, plus punitive damages for humiliation and emotional distress.

In closed session Oct. 18, the board of aldermen unanimously approved firing Bunting, 39, an officer with the department since January 2004. Bunting served as interim police chief for a few months before the city hired Chief David Bailey in 2008.

"I'm disappointed it came to this," Bailey said Dec. 20. "I like Mike (Bunting), and I wish he wouldn't have gone this route (a lawsuit), but he did what he felt he had to."

Bunting states he was fired for not attending a city board meeting.

Bunting filed the case in Oregon County Circuit Court after his appeal to the Thayer Board of Alderman supported Bailey's request that Bunting be terminated. The suit names Bailey and the city as defendants.

Bunting's petition, drafted by Willow Springs attorney Lynsie Gabel-Upton, states Bailey accused Bunting of refusing to cooperate with authorities when former fellow officer Darrin Sorrell was being investigated for extortion.

Sorrell was a Thayer Police officer for a time after 2004, later becoming an Oregon County sheriff's deputy. He was charged in October with felony theft by coercion for allegedly telling an Oregon County woman if she paid him $5,800, he would "make an investigation against her go away."

The petition states Bailey accused Bunting of lying during the investigation and "covering up facts to the benefit of former deputy Sorrell."

Bailey became irate with Bunting, yelling and cursing at him on Oct. 18. Bailey demanded that Bunting attend the regular aldermen meeting that night, according to the petition.

Bunting told Bailey he could not attend that night because his wife, Jacqueline Bunting, now a candidate for election to the North Ward alderman position, had to attend a college class, and he had to baby-sit their children, the petition states.

When Bunting didn't show for the meeting, he was fired.

Count 2 of the petition states Bunting was wrongfully terminated according to city ordinances, in that Bunting was not first notified in writing of the contemplated action.

Count 3 states Bunting was humiliated by Bailey, who allegedly told lies about Bunting to several city employees and the full board of aldermen.

Bunting is asking to be reinstated to his previous position with identical working conditions and his last pay rate of $15.50 per hour at 40 hours per week.

City officials declined to comment on the case, although Bailey said in an earlier interview that Bunting was not terminated for illegal activity, but for a difference in opinion about the department's management.

Bunting was unable to be reached by telephone.

A court date has not been set for the civil case. On Dec. 5, Judge David Paul Evans recused himself and asked that an out-of-circuit judge be assigned by the Missouri Supreme Court.

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