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Fired police captian asks for hearing

A local police captain, fired last month for obesity and other reasons, has taken his appeal a step higher. Capt. Bob Johnson asked Thursday that a state hearing officer decide his case. Decisions by such hearing officers usually are upheld by Tarpon Springs' Civil Service Board, leaving the losing party no appeal besides going to court.

Johnson, a 21-year employee, was fired by City Manager Tony Shoemaker. Johnson's attorney appealed the decision and suggested the captain be made a code enforcement officer. Shoemaker denied the request.

Johnson was fired for several reasons, including disobeying orders dating to October 1987 that he lose enough weight to get down to "a level apropriate to age, stature and captain's rank," according to Johnson's boss, Police Chief Keith Bergstrom. Johnson, 47, is 5-foot-11 and weighs about 300 pounds.

The hearing officer, acting as judge and jury, is to weigh evidence presented in a hearing by Johnson's attorney, John Shahan, and the city. The five-member Civil Service Board usually agrees with those decisions, Personnel Director Phil Bowers said.

"Since they didn't hear the case, I would think it would be hard for them to disagree," Bowers said.

If the hearing officer disagrees with Shoemaker's decision, Johnson could get his job back, Bowers said.

If the officer agrees Johnson should have been fired, Shahan said, he will appeal the decision in court. Johnson already has sued Bergstrom and the city in federal court for $1-million.

The captain claims in his suit that Bergstrom discriminated against him by setting up what was really a one-man program to lose weight two years ago. Johnson also charged he was demoted last year without cause and without being given notice or a chance to have his side heard.