4/4/2014 8:26:00 AM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - The president of a small Mormon congregation in Utah was improperly fired from the police force after he visited a congregant in jail, an appeals court ruled.
In addition to being a police officer in Park City, Michael Fierro served as a lay leader in his Mormon church. Fierro learned in 2009 that one of his parishioners had been jailed on suspicion of having sexually abused a child.
Fierro arranged to visit the suspect and received some special accommodations, such as entry through a door usually used by police officers, and after-hours access.
After he was fired later that year, the Park City Employee Transfer and Discharge Appeals Board affirmed based on its finding that Fierro's "misuse of his credentials and his knowing failure to identify that the purpose of his visit was as a clergyman, rather than as a police officer, was dishonest."
The Utah Court of Appeals last week, however, since the evidence did not support the board's finding that he lied about the purpose of his visit.
"Rather, all relevant evidence presented to the appeal board indicates that Fierro fully disclosed that he was visiting the jail in his role as a member of his church's lay clergy," Judge Gregory Orme wrote for the court.
The termination memo Fierro received also mentioned nothing about his alleged failure to disclose the purpose of his visit, according to the ruling.
"The appeal board's ultimate conclusion that Fierro misused his credentials turned almost exclusively on its very specific finding that Fierro lied about the purpose of his jailhouse visit," Orme wrote. "This conclusion is simply not supported by the evidence, much less substantial evidence."
Despite his ruling to set aside Fierro's termination, Orme questioned whether it was a good idea for the officer to get involved in the case in the role of a clergyman.
"Having processed the original complaint made by the victim's family at the police station, he nevertheless involved himself in an ecclesiastical role with the suspect," Orme wrote.