Scottville police chief told repeatedly during July 27 meeting that he wasn’t fired. 

August 23, 2022

Matt Murphy

Scottville police chief told repeatedly during July 27 meeting that he wasn’t fired. 

SCOTTVILLE — Several details about circumstances leading up to the alleged termination of Scottville Police Chief Matt Murphy were revealed during the city commission’s regular meeting Monday, Aug. 22, including: a taped recording of a meeting Wednesday morning, July 27, 2022, between now former City Attorney Carlos Alvarado, City Manager Jimmy Newkirk, Mayor Marcy Spencer and Murphy, in which the group discussed Murphy’s employment status; the wiped computer and phone; and disciplinary actions with a police officer that led to the entire course of events. Through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, MCP has acquired the recording of the meeting. 

Editor’s note: Rob Alway, editor-in-chief of Mason County Press is a city commissioner. Until the FOIA request was made by MCP, Alway had not acquired or heard the recording, though he was aware of it. 

According to statements by Alvarado, Murphy was never fired. On Monday, July 25, City Manager Jimmy Newkirk and Murphy met, about noon, to discuss an issue that arose over the previous weekend concerning Police Officer Katrina Skinner (see related story here). Murphy attempted to suspend Skinner because she refused to work a weekend shift, claiming she had had a verbal agreement with the city since she became a full-time employee that exempted her from working weekends. The agreement had been made between a previous city manager and a previous mayor. The city attorney, in an opinion written over that weekend, stated that the while current city officials could not recall the exact terms, a precedent had been set since Skinner had never worked a regular weekend shift. 

Scottville city policy only allows the city manager to suspend employees. However, Murphy suspended Skinner anyway. On Monday, July 25, when Murphy and Newkirk met, Murphy claims that Newkirk fired him and kicked him out of city hall, though Murphy then returned several times. 

During the July 27 meeting, Alvarado states to Murphy that since the meeting is being recorded that it is public record and open to FOIA requests. Murphy said he understood that. 

Several times during the meeting, Alvarado stated to Murphy that he was not terminated. For the first several minutes of the meeting, Murphy also acknowledged that he was prepared to return to work. Murphy never explains during the meeting why he believed he was terminated, except making reference to Newkirk discussing a 90-day clause in his contract. Murphy’s contract states that if the city terminates the employment of the chief of police before the expiration of the contract, and during such time that the chief of police is willing and able to perform his duties under the contract, that the city shall provide a minimum 90-day notice prior to official termination. 

The conversation began with Alvarado trying to discuss the incident that sparked the whole conflict.

“I’m not going to discuss this situation right now,” Murphy initially said and repeated similar statements several times afterward. 

“OK, so what are you prepared to discuss?” Alvarado asked. 

“That I’m here, ready to work and that I’m able to work,” Murphy responded. 

“That is perfect Matt, but you can understand that we can’t escape from Friday to Monday and your behavior on Monday. Your behavior was illegal. You wiped out a public record from your computer. You wiped out the telephone from your computer. You are not allowed to do that as public record. How are you going to work today?” 

“I’m here ready to work, Carlos,” Murphy responded. 

“How?” Alvarado asked. “Where’s your computer?” 

“I have all sorts of computers in the office,” Murphy said. “I’m here and ready to work. That’s all I have to say to you at this point. I requested my attorney. I have not been given that opportunity. I am still requesting my attorney now.” 

“This is an employment matter and we want to know what it is that you want,” Alvarado said. 

“Well, you’re talking about criminal implications right now,” Murphy said. 

“I’m not talking about criminal implications. I’m asking you why you did that,” Alvarado said. 

“I’m here ready to work,” Murphy responded. 

“OK, now you’re not going to answer why you wiped the computer,” Alvarado said. 

“I was preparing the computer after I was fired for the next person. I still had personal matters in it…. and I was preparing it exactly as it was left for me when I was hired.” 

“Your computer, being public property, you’re not allowed to keep personal matters in it,” Alvarado said. “If you have personal matters…” 

Murphy then cut Alvarado off. 

“Is that common practice here?” Murphy asked. 

“I don’t know,” Alvarado said. 

Later Alvarado stated that any personal items, including emails, stored on public computers are open to Freedom of Information Act requests. 

“There are search warrant templates on there. That’s all there is,” Murphy told Alvarado, repeating (later in the conversation) that he was preparing the computer for his replacement. During the Monday, Aug. 22 meeting of the city commission, when asked if he could provide the backup to the computer to the commission, Murphy stated that the computer had sensitive police matters on it and that he was unable to release that information to the city commission or the city manager, though the city manager is his direct supervisor. For example, he said there were victim statements on the computer, contradicting what he told Alvarado during the July 27 meeting. Murphy also acknowledged in the July 27 meeting that he kept personal documents and emails on his city-owned computer. 

Murphy did admit during the July 27 meeting that the data was backed up to an online “cloud” server. He did not, however, state that the data had been stored on a hard drive and kept in the police department’s evidence room, as he revealed during the Aug. 22 meeting. When asked during the Aug. 22 meeting why he did not state that, he said he was never asked. Mayor Spencer then stated that it seemed like he purposely was misleading the city leadership. 

The topic of the computer backup occurred several times during the course of the 53-minute conversation, July 27. 

Alvarado attempted to explain to Murphy that his actions were examples of insubordination. 

“The last conversation that Jimmy reported to me, the discussion on Tuesday (July 26), two things were made clear: One, that you are not prepared to be a subordinate as you are. You committed an action of insubordination by leaving the work. Nobody terminated you even if you have a 90-day notice.” 

“I was fired and asked to leave and that’s all I have to say,” Murphy said, interrupting Alvarado. “I did not quit and did not walk off the job. I was fired and asked to leave.” 

“OK, that’s fine and you’re entitled to your opinion regarding the facts,” Alvarado said. 

“Well, quite frankly, you don’t have the facts because you weren’t there,” Murphy responded. 

“Well, there’s a record and there are witnesses,” Alvarado said. 

“Well, I don’t believe the witnesses will say what you want them to say,” Murphy said. 

Later, in the conversation, it was stated that City Clerk Kelse Lester was in the city hall during the meeting between Newkirk and Murphy. Murphy said he didn’t believe Lester would discuss the issue. 

“I’m not saying anymore, Carlos, and this is it,” Murphy said. 

“What happens if Jimmy calls you to a meeting?” Alvarado asked. 

“I’ll be here and ready to work,” Murphy again responded. 

“What happened to Katrina’s schedule? Could you explain why she was approaching us, sending a letter?” Alvarado asked. 

“I’m here and ready to go to work. I’m not going to discuss this situation right now,” Murphy responded. 

“What is the situation with Katrina today? You are her boss. What is her situation today?” Alvarado asked. 

“I couldn’t tell you because my complete authority has been undermined and I can’t control my department at this time,” Murphy said. 

“How has your authority been undermined?” Alvarado asked.

“I’m here and ready to work,” Murphy said. 

“How has your authority been undermined because we want to know,” Alvarado said. “Is Jimmy supposed to go and command your officers?” 

Murphy didn’t respond to the question. 

“Who is in charge of the police department this morning?” Alvarado asked. 

No response. 

“Are you in charge of the police department? That’s your job description,” Alvarado said. 

“I’m here and ready to fulfill my contractural obligations,” Murphy finally responded. 

“Ok, if you’re here to fulfill your contractural obligations please explain to me what is the situation with Officer Skinner,” Alvarado said. 

“She’s working,” Murphy said. 

“OK, what does her scheduled look like?” Alvarado asked. 

“I’ve been advised by my attorney not to discuss this situation. I’m not going to discuss it,” Murphy said. 

“But that’s part of your contract,” Alvarado said. “You’re telling me that you’re coming here to fulfill your contract.” 

Murphy then responded that he did not want to have the meeting because his attorney was not available. Alvarado said he had spoken to Murphy’s attorney, Amanda Stowe-Lloyd the day before and let her know that there was going to be a meeting. 

“I spoke with your lawyer at 4 p.m. (Tuesday, July 26) and you knew that you were not fired, that you were to report to work,” Alvarado said. 

“Yes, I did,” Murphy responded.

“And now we are having a work meeting and I am asking you to give us the schedule of your officers,” Alvarado said. “It’s not hard. You have two officers.” 

Murphy then explained the standard Scottville Police Department work shifts, which included only two shifts, though he, by job description, is supposed to work a regular patrolling shift as well. The other full time officer is Steve Case, who serves as a school resource officer during the school year. That position is funded, during the school year, by West Shore Community College and Mason County Central Schools. 

The discussion then turned to Skinner and the agreement about her schedule. Murphy claimed, during the discussion that he was unaware of her agreement with the city to only work weekdays, even though he has been chief since 2020. 

“Are you aware that Officer Skinner sent a letter?” Alvarado said, referring to Skinner’s letter to Newkirk. 

“No, I wasn’t aware that she didn’t follow chain of command,” Murphy said. 

“Did you follow the chain of command when you were discharged on Monday?” Alvarado asked. “Do you have a recourse that you were fired?” 

“No, not that I’m aware,” Murphy said. “I believe that I can appeal to the commission.” 

“So, why didn’t you do that?” Alvarado said. 

“I called everybody that would answer and advised them,” Murphy said. Later in the conversation Murphy stated that it was inappropriate for him, based on the “chain of command” for him to directly speak to commissioners about his job or his officers, a contradiction to his statement about calling commissioners about his job status. 

Alvarado then agreed that Murphy called several people, stating that he also received several messages from Murphy. In Alvarado’s resignation to the city commission, he described the messages as “incoherent” with the last message received after midnight. 

“The situation here for me is simply an employment situation,” Alvarado said adding that while the work atmosphere at Scottville city hall is “relaxed,” there is a “chain of command.” 

“There is no chain of command here,” Murphy responded, laughing. 

“Then file a report to the commission,” Alvarado said. 

Later, Murphy stated that he did not trust City Manager Newkirk, Mayor Spencer or City Attorney Alvarado, which is why he was recording the conversation himself. 

“Jimmy has bold faced lied about this situation and I don’t trust him,” Murphy said. 

“The situation here, Matt, is that you are an employee of the city,” Alvarado said adding that lessons needed to be learned from the situation. “First of all, there is a chain of command… it is written in a document and that’s all that matters to me.”

The conversation then turned again to the circumstances of Skinner’s suspension. Murphy then denied that he had suspended Skinner.

“I was attempting to reach out to Mr. Newkirk about the situation with Katrina and never did I suspend her,” he said. “I was attempting to get ahold of the city manager to carry out disciplinary action.” 

Through FOIA, MCP requested City Manager Newkirk’s text messages with Murphy from the previous week. At 12:46 p.m. on Friday, July 22, Murphy sent a text message to Newkirk: “Need a call. I’m about to suspend Katrina. I need a phone call,” the message stated. 

During the July 27 meeting, Murphy said he had simply given Skinner the day off Monday, July 25, to avoid overtime she would have accumulated after working the weekend, though she did not show up for work over the weekend. 

According to Newkirk, Murphy took a two-week vacation following the incident and recently has returned to work. Newkirk said there is an ongoing investigation, however. 

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