By Mindy Ragan Wood
OKARCHE – After serving on active duty in the U.S. Army Reserves for a year, an Okarche police officer experienced a shock when he returned home to resume his job.
Okarche police officer Charles Snyder went to the police department Monday where he encountered an angry police chief and was ordered out of the building, he said Monday night.
The military veteran now wonders if he has a job.
“He told me to get off the G___d____ property or he was going to call the Canadian County Sheriff’s office to escort me off the property,” Snyder said, as he spoke about Okarche Police Chief Forrest Smith’s reported comments.
Snyder said he informed Smith he would be back on duty at the station Feb. 1. He was still technically on duty with the reserves until midnight Monday, but as a courtesy he wanted to let the department know when he could return.
The dispute began when Snyder said Smith asked him why he didn’t return calls and text messages a few months ago.
“He said, ‘well when I call someone, I expect them to call me back.’ I said, ‘well that’s fine but I wasn’t working for you. I was on active duty, home on leave. I don’t have to do anything you ask me to do because I’m not working for you.’”
He said Smith asked him if he intended to call him back when he calls.
“I said, ‘yes sir, when I’m working for you, but I was not working for you and what you had to talk to me about had nothing to do with me,’” Snyder recalled. “He didn’t like that answer.”
That’s when the officer claims the conversation escalated to Smith yelling at him and swearing.
“I told him that this conversation was over the minute he started yelling, so I’m going to go next door and get (Town Administrator) Richard (Raupe) and we can put him in the middle of this and find out what’s going on here,” Snyder said. “Then he said he was going to write me up for insubordination…I said that’s fine because you can’t write me up for you wanting me to do something for you when I’m not working for you. So therefore, this conversation is over with. I’m going next door to let Richard know what you’re doing, or we can work it out. He didn’t like that either.”
It was then he said Smith informed him he had been demoted and would be placed on the night shift. Before leaving for active duty, Snyder worked the day shift and was the second-in-command.
He said Smith then followed him into the court clerk’s office where the confrontation continued. He attempted to get Raupe’s cell number because he was not here.
“He (Smith) started yelling at me telling me to get off this property right now or ‘I’m calling Canadian County (Sheriff’s Office) to escort you off the property. I told him I was in a public place and that he could not call the police on me when I’m talking to the city clerk to get the city manager’s number because you are yelling at me,” he said. “I want to talk to Richard. He told me no, that I needed to get the f___ off this property or he would call the sheriff. I told (town clerk) Dana (Reese) to have a good day and I left because I didn’t want the situation to escalate.”
Reese did not confirm Snyder’s story because it is a personnel matter. She referred the Okarche Warrior to Town Attorney Bryce Kennedy.
“I’m sending him a letter to welcome him back. He will be reinstated with the same rank and same pay,” Kennedy said Wednesday.
However, Snyder remains concerned that they (town officials) are “asking me to return to a hostile work environment.”
Chief Smith did not return a call for comment.
Meanwhile, Snyder wonders if he has a job to report to on Feb. 1. The officer believes he was demoted while on active duty which appears to be a violation of federal law and could leave the city open to a lawsuit.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 protects reserve military personnel from losing their civilian jobs, pay and position while serving their country.
Former Police Chief Mark Sterling confirmed that prior to his retirement and Snyder’s deployment, Snyder was second-in-command. He said the town wanted to restructure the police department and eliminate the assistant chief’s position.
“I told them well, I need a number two guy,” Sterling said Tuesday. “Charles is intelligent, he’s a veteran, he’s a good cop and he knew his stuff. So, I made him number two as staff sergeant. He still had the second in command badge (902) when I was there. He comes back and he’s demoted from staff sergeant to sergeant. He did not do a thing but go serve his country and expect to come back to a job that didn’t touch his status and they violated it.”
Snyder has been largely absent since Smith took over the department in April last year. He said he stopped by the department after Smith was hired and introduced himself.
“He said hello and then he wanted to know how much money I made,” Snyder said. “I told him he could ask the court clerk since she has it on file, but that I thought it was around $40,000.”
That was the end of the discussion, Snyder said.
When he returned for leave in late October, he stopped by the police station and noticed that his rank had been removed from second in command as lieutenant to sergeant. He claimed he was not notified of the change.
“I thought that was odd,” Snyder said. “When he (Smith) came on, he brought one of his officers with him and now he’s second in command.”
Kingfisher County jail records show the rank of officers who bring in suspects. The record shows that Synder is third in rank, not second, and that the second-in-command is Lieutenant Brayley Running.
Snyder has spoken with a representative from USERRA and is seeking an attorney. A call to USERRA was not returned at press time.
Raupe said by phone Wednesday that Snyder’s job has been kept open and that he still holds the same pay and the same rank as he did prior to deployment.
“We haven’t heard a word from him the entire time he’s been gone,” Raupe said. “We need to see his Army release papers.”
He declined to comment on the alleged argument between Snyder and Smith. Raupe is preparing to meet with both men to “work it out,” he said.