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Firing of obese officer upheld

The city's Civil Service Board upheld the firing of former police Capt. Bob Johnson, who claimed he was let go only because he was overweight. The five-member board, composed of Tarpon Springs residents appointed by the City Commission, voted unanimously to accept a state hearing officer's recommendation to uphold Johnson's firing.

"I was very impressed with the way the hearing officer conducted the hearing," board member Stanley Stone said. "It was very impartial and a very fair hearing for both sides."

The board's decision came a month after Hearing Officer Donald D. Conn said many factors, including Johnson's weight, justified the dismissal. Conn was called in as an impartial arbitrator to consider whether the firing was fair. Johnson has contested his dismissal since he was fired in January.

Johnson's attorney, John Shahan of Tarpon Springs, said Tuesday that he's not giving up. He said he would consider during the next 15 days whether to ask a civil judge to intervene, overturn the rulings and reinstate Johnson.

Johnson filed a federal lawsuit against the department last December. In it he claimed his civil rights were violated when he was demoted from captain to a special projects officer because he was overweight.

Johnson said he wasn't surprised with the board's decision.

"I expected it," he said. "These people don't know what happened over the years."

"Nobody fired Mr. Johnson except Mr. Johnson," Tom Gonzalez, an attorney for the city, said at Tuesday's meeting. "He (Conn) made a tough call and found that this person needed to be fired and that Chief (Keith) Bergstrom was right."

Conn's 21-page recommendation said from August 1985 to April 1987, Johnson needed "constant" supervision, was absent regularly without an excuse and was suspended for two days for an incident involving a police dispatcher.

Chief Bergstrom ordered Johnson to lose weight several times, but Johnson failed to reach the 200-pound goal. Conn's report said Johnson's weight ranged from about 330 to 400 pounds.

Conn also found Johnson violated department procedures when he failed to report a part-time job he held delivering the St. Petersburg Times. Johnson said Tuesday he has been unable to find full-time work in law enforcement and still delivers for the Times.