Tribune-Courier News Editor
Benton police escorted a man from the May 20 city council meeting after the man made an emotional request to return to his job.
Chris Harvey, 43, Benton, was arrested on July 12, 2012, and charged with assault for allegedly slapping his son. The incident occurred while Harvey was on duty as supervisor of the Benton city swimming pool.
The arrest report said Harvey admitted to slapping the minor “as hard as he could,” because the boy pulled away and became defiant after refusing to clean up a spilled beverage. The arrest report, prepared by Officer Darryl Carr, of the Benton Police Department, said the alleged victim had redness and some discoloration on the right side of his face.
Mayor Steve Cary said Harvey was terminated from his position as pool manager at the Benton City Pool at H.H. Lovett Park because of the incident.
“We felt this was not acceptable behavior for the pool supervisor at the park, and couldn’t take a chance this would happen again,” Cary said. “I understand why he became angry, but it is something he should not have done as an employee of the pool, on city property with other people around.”
In a letter submitted to The Tribune-Courier, Harvey said his son was defiant and that he did not receive due process from the city prior to his termination. He is also a teacher in Marshall County Schools, and has been removed from the classroom for an administrative position, pending the outcome of his trial.
“Just know that I did what I thought was right and what many citizens of Benton have personally told me that they would have done if faced with a similar situation,” Harvey wrote. “Raising kids is difficult. It is a job I take seriously. It upsets me greatly for people to think I would assault any child, much less my own.”
The Tribune-Courier declined to publish Harvey’s letter as it does not conform to length guidelines.
According to a witness statement and the investigative report, Harvey’s son spilled a beverage and refused to clean it when asked by another pool employee. The son refused and told another employee to do it because he was doing nothing. Father and son began to argue, and the witness heard a loud slap. Harvey and son were then seen grappling. During the exchange witnesses saw and heard Harvey’s son using profanity and obscene gestures. The witness said the son did slap back.
Harvey became tearful before the council as he repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. He told the council he had community support for his request for reinstatement as pool manager.
“Steve, I sent you a petition with 150 names,” he told Cary. “I’ll get 1,000 names, 10,000 names. Just tell me what I need to do,” Harvey said.
Cary said the meeting was not the right venue for Harvey to voice his concerns, and that he would welcome Harvey to make an appointment to discuss it further.
“I am the only person in the city who can discuss a personnel issue and you want these council members to decide something that only I decide, and they can’t legally do it,” Cary said. “So we are not discussing it here. You can’t come and put the pressure on this council.”
At Cary’s request, Harvey was escorted from the council chamber by Benton Police Chief Tracy Watwood without incident.
Cary later said that the law clearly defined assault, whether in a father-son altercation or other cases, and believed the Benton Police Department made the correct call by making the arrest.
City Attorney Martin Johnson said Cary reacted to what the mayor believed was inappropriate conduct by a part-time city employee and was within his rights to terminate Harvey.
“It’s not the conduct we expect from a manager of our pool, even if it was his own child,” Johnson said. “We expect any employee to deal with their family relationships at home.”
In contrast to the city’s actions, Harvey remains an employee of the school district and would be entitled to extensive due process.
Johnson is also attorney for the school district.
“There is a high standard that must be met [for the school district] to terminate any employee,” Johnson said. “[The employee] would be entitled to a tribunal, which is about like a trial, with a hearing officer. It is highly unlikely the district would do anything until the outcome of his trial.”
Given Harvey’s profile in the community, both a special prosecutor and special judge in district court have been appointed to his case. Brandon Knoth of Lyon County will serve as prosecutor, and Calloway District Judge Randall Hutchens will hear the case. Harvey referred questions to his attorney, Jeremy Ian Smith of Paducah.
“He’s not guilty because no crime has been committed,” Smith said. “The state has a very specific statute that allows parents to use force when it is in the best interest of the welfare of children. The facts show this is a justifiable action.”
Smith said he will be prepared to present a case at a trial scheduled for Aug. 1.
“This is the kind of trial criminal defense attorneys like to get,” Smith said. “You look at the evidence and realize he didn’t do anything and [the case is] ready for a trial.”
In his letter, Harvey said 100 percent exoneration is his goal.
“My goal is simple, clear my name and return to the pool so I can continue serving the citizens of Benton in the role I have proudly held since 1998. I want to thank those who have offered words of encouragement to me and my family during this difficult time,” Harvey said in his letter.