By Dan Moffett
Former police Lt. Steve Wohlfiel wants Ocean Ridge to reconsider his firing with an appeal hearing that includes testimony from witnesses who may be reluctant to come forward.
In a declaratory judgment complaint to Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Wohlfiel’s attorney, Ralph King, says that the town is not following the employee rules in its charter by denying his client a hearing during which he could “present and confront witnesses and other evidence.”
But Brian Shutt, an attorney for the town, says Ocean Ridge hasn’t conducted appeals that way before, and it’s up to the Town Commission to decide the format.
“In the past the process followed is one where the person appealing can present their case and if they have some witnesses, who agree to testify, then they may present them,” Schutt told King in an email. “There was no cross- examination or calling of witnesses that do not agree to testify, as this is an appeal.”
Commissioners decided to postpone a February hearing for Wohlfiel after King, an attorney with the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, filed suit, charging the town had violated his rights and denied him due process.
The commission voted unanimously to fire the veteran officer in January over his alleged involvement in an October shooting incident at the home of former Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella. Town police said they found the two men “obviously intoxicated” in the backyard after neighbors called to report gunshots.
Lucibella resigned his seat after county prosecutors charged him with felony battery on an officer and resisting an officer with violence, as well as a misdemeanor firearms offense. Wohlfiel, who was off-duty at the home, was not charged, but an internal affairs report was critical of his behavior, citing the sworn testimony of two witnesses who claimed he admitted firing the shots.
Commissioners agreed to take no action on Wohlfiel’s appeal until the court rules on the disputed process.