The Terre Haute Fire Merit Commission suspended firefighter Rodger Plunkett for one year without pay Thursday evening for violating the department's code of conduct.
In a 3 to 1 vote, the commission determined Plunkett, 46, of Paris, Illinois, and formerly of Terre Haute, had been arrested twice before for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and had circulated a doctored photo of two men performing sexual acts, one with the face of a Terre Haute firefighter and the other with the face of a local citizen.
The commission dismissed a charge alleging Plunkett operated city vehicles and department apparatuses while his license was suspended per his OVWI convictions, saying the department failed to prove the charge to the commission's satisfaction.
His suspension without pay begin Thursday and ends Nov. 6, 2020.
Plunkett, who was not at Thursday's public meeting, had been on administrative leave with pay since his Sept. 4 arrest. Plunkett faces five charges of child molestation and has a Feb. 24 trial date. He was released from Vigo County Jail on Oct. 24 after posting $100,000 bond.
If Plunkett's molestation case is resolved without a criminal conviction, the merit commission said Plunkett will be reinstated as a member of the department.
If he is convicted, the department will again have to petition the commission to terminate Plunkett's employment.
An internal investigation began Sept. 6 after Plunkett's most recent arrest. Terre Haute Fire Assistant Chief Norm Loudermilk returned his findings Oct. 1 to Fire Chief Jeff Fisher.
On Oct. 2, Fisher recommended the merit commission dismiss Plunkett.
The commission met in executive session Oct. 24 and Oct. 30 to hear arguments from both the department and Plunkett.
In its meetings, the commission said it found:
• An allegation that Plunkett was not a resident of Vigo County was unfounded
• That Plunkett had been arrested Sept. 24, 2018, in Hamilton County and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, endangering a person
• An allegation that Plunkett's driving privileges had been suspended Sept. 25, 2018, and that he nonetheless drove department apparatus 28 times during his suspension and was paid additional driver pay was unfounded
• An allegation that Plunkett improperly used paid sick time was unfounded
• That Plunkett had been convicted June 19, 2009, in Vigo County of operating a vehicle while intoxicated
• That Plunkett distributed a doctored image of two men engaging in sexual acts, one with the photoshopped face of a fire department member and the other a local citizen
After a reading of the findings Thursday it was recommended Plunkett be suspended without pay. Commission members Scott Menton, Gary Turner and David McCarty voted for the measure. Member Don Nattkemper voted against the suspension, saying he only favored termination.
Fisher after the meeting said he appreciates the commission taking up the matter, but that he disagrees with its decision.
"I appreciate the time the merit commission took to hear our arguments — I'm disappointed in the outcome, obviously — but we'll get through this and look ahead to what out next step is," Fisher said.
"Coming into tonight I knew it could go either way, and I thought I would be relieved once the decision was made. But I still feel the same way and am sorry the department has to go through something like this."
Fisher said City Attorney Eddie Felling is looking into a possible appeal of the merit commission's decision, much the same as Plunkett having the right to appeal the decision.
Reporter Alex Modesitt can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarAlex.