Attorney for Middletown police chief on leave: ‘I don’t believe this action was justified’

Chief David Birk has been on administrative leave since Dec. 20.

An attorney representing Middletown Police Chief David Birk, who was placed on administrative leave on Dec. 20 and escorted out of the building, said action against the longtime police officer is not warranted.

“I don’t believe this action was justified,” attorney Stephen Imm told the Journal-News. “I don’t believe that the chief has done anything to merit any disciplinary action.”

He said they’re in talks with the city about the reasons they placed Birk on leave and trying to “find a solution to it.”

Birk has been a “dedicated and loyal public servant of over a quarter of a century,” Imm said. “I think he has done a very good job for the city. I think the city has a lot to be thankful for in regards to the service of Chief Birk, and I am hoping that this gets worked out.”

The attorney said he is unaware of any criminal allegations against Birk. He added as far as he knows the investigation into the issue is being conducted internally, but he is unsure by whom.

Four of the five City Council members contacted by the Journal-News — Jennifer Carter, Zack Ferrell, Paul Horn and Steve West II — said they didn’t want to comment on the investigation.

But Ferrell, the only council member who was serving when Birk was suspended, and West II said they still have confidence in the department, its leadership and officers.

Deputy Chief Maj. Eric Crank is the acting police chief.

West II said the city, operating without a police chief, is not “a big negative” and the city manager and his senior staff have the ability to operate the city. He said council members are prepared to give the city any support it needs.

Birk, named chief in December 2019, was placed on paid leave on the morning of Dec. 20 “pending further review of matters related to your employment,” according to a letter signed by Middletown City Manager Paul Lolli.

“Generally, we do not comment on personnel matters,” Lolli said on Dec. 21. He has continued to decline comment when contracted by the Journal-News.

The Journal-News requested to review or a copy of Birk’s personnel file on Dec. 26 and received notification of receipt on Dec. 28. As of today, the file has not been received.

The Journal-News requested information on Dec. 21 about the situation and received a letter telling Birk the rules of his leave:

The letter signed by Lolli and marked “Via hand delivery only” notified Birk he was being placed on administrative leave with pay.

Birk was immediately suspended from any and all work duties, according to the letter. He was instructed to relinquish city keys and fobs, his service weapon and police officer badge, passwords and codes. He was also instructed not to communicate with other city employees during normal work hours, remain at home and provide (the city) with a phone number where he can be reached immediately during work hours.

Lolli wrote in the last line of the letter, “This administrative leave is not a disciplinary action or adverse employment action.”

Last month, Nicole Condrey, then Middletown’s mayor, said she didn’t have “enough information” to comment on Birk’s suspension, but she wanted to address his character. She called Birk “one of the most kind, thoughtful humans” she has met.

“His dedication to public service is exemplary,” Condrey said.

On Dec. 19, the day before Birk was notified of the suspension, he attended the City Council meeting and the reception that followed in honor of the three outgoing council members, Condrey, Monica Thomas and Tal Moon.

He worked for the department for more that 22 years before being named chief after the retirement of Rodney Muterspaw, who later served as a city council member.

Birk began his career with MPD in 1997 as a patrol officer. He has moved up the ranks as a field training officer, special operations detective, sergeant, lieutenant and most recently as major and deputy chief.

Birk has also served as special response team commander and honor guard commander since 2006.

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