MONTICELLO, Ky. — Attorney George Bertram fired back earlier this week, responding to what he said were “false, defamatory and misleading statements” from Monticello Mayor Tracie Sexton about former Assistant Monticello Police Chief Ronnie Ellis II.
Bertram represented Ellis after Sexton removed him from the Assistant Chief position and demoted him to patrol duties.
Bertram was responding to an interview published in the Commonwealth Journal last week, in which Sexton gave her reasons for demoting Ellis, then reinstating him, as well as talking about the circumstances surrounding the subsequent separation agreement between the city and Ellis.
Bertram claims many of the mayor’s statements were based on confidential settlement negotiations between attorneys for both parties.
In a statement to the Commonwealth Journal last week, Sexton said, “On August 13, I was presented with an agreement from Ellis’ attorney asking me to agree for Ellis to withdraw his request for a hearing and be a patrolman until December 2020.”
The mayor continued, “This agreement also came with a mutual press release that stated lies about why the demotion had taken place. I was asked to tell the public that these issues stemmed from Ellis’ desire to run for sheriff — which has never been an issue between the two of us.”
Bertram responded, “The email referenced by the Mayor was transmitted on August 12, 2020, from G. George Bertram (attorney for Ellis) to Gordon Germain and Bridget Dunaway (Attorneys for City). The email does not contain any ‘lies about why the demotion had taken place,’ nor does it ask the Mayor to ‘tell the public that these issues stemmed from Ellis’ desire to run for sheriff,’ nor can any reasonable inference to this effect be drawn from its content.”
Bertram said the email addressed to Germain and Dunaway contained a “news” release that Bertram and Ellis hoped “captures the spirit of compromise and public service.”
That statement read: “Monticello Mayor Tracy Sexton and Assistant Chief of Police Ronnie Ellis II are pleased to announce a resolution of personnel issues that arose in the last few weeks of July 2020. Both of them agreed that the goals of law enforcement in Monticello were far more important than their differences of opinion and those differences needed to be resolved without undue delay, in the interests of the community. Mr. Ellis acknowledged that his recently announced plans to pursue election as Sheriff of Wayne County created unanticipated conflicts with his current obligations as Assistant City Police Chief.”
Bertram said the mutual agreement between Sexton and Ellis stated Ellis would withdraw a request for an employment hearing and resign his position as assistant chief, and that both parties would release each other for any other liabilities.
Ellis also agreed to continue his employment as an officer at his current rate of pay, through December 30, 2020.
Sexton told the Commonwealth Journal, “On August 26, I was contacted via email by our attorney with an attached separation agreement, already signed by Officer Ellis. At no time have I ever suggested that Ellis leave the Monticello Police Department.”
Bertram claims that is not true.
“In an email from the City’s attorney on August 18, 2020, to Mr. Ellis’ attorney, the Mayor made the following proposal: ‘As you know Friday afternoon we discussed a proposal by which Ellis would be able to return to assistant chief in exchange for an immediate resignation, with mutual releases but no reimbursement of legal fees. You were going to discuss with your client and get back to me. I have not heard from you. The Mayor has now decided against this proposal. She will, however, allow Mr. Ellis to resign his patrolman position this week without any adverse reflection in his personnel file.’”
According to Bertram, the third false statement the Mayor made was as follows, “After Ellis hired an attorney, we had email correspondence through our attorney and his. His attorney was claiming that he should have been given a hearing under the Police Officer Bill of Rights. Our position has never changed — that the inappropriate conduct as a supervisor is not a policy specific to police officer policy and does not require a hearing.”
Part of the issue surrounding Ellis and Sexton involves incidents that took place between Ellis and Officer Zachary Bybee, the son of Police Chief Joe Bybee.
Ellis was demoted after he reportedly threatened Zach Bybee during an incident in the squad room on July 15.
That confrontation was said to be over Bybee acquiring a lawn mower and attempting to sell it. The lawn mower was, according to Bertram, part of a stolen property investigation.
Bertram said that on May 3, Ellis turned over “his investigation of a stolen property case implicating Zachary Bybee to the Mayor and/or Kentucky State Police for further investigation and potential prosecution.”
According to Mayor Sexton, however, the lawn mower was not reported stolen, but was classified as found property.
“Three weeks after the mower was brought into the possession of the police department, an individual called and stated it was his but he did not want it and had no way to come get it. According to Officer Bybee and the individual that called to have the mower removed from her property, there was a negotiation between the person who called to claim the property and Officer Bybee that led to Bybee taking $20 for payment to the individual for the lawnmower. That transaction is on file from Officer Bybee’s body camera,” Sexton said.
A confrontation between Ellis and Bybee was recorded on Bybee’s body camera, which was done secretly, according to Bertram.
“During that conversation, Zachary Bybee becomes defensive, denies that he failed to utilize ‘police rank’ in public, and orders Officer Ellis to stop referring to Chief Bybee as ‘his Dad’ and to instead refer to him as ‘Chief,’” Bertram said.
“A very brief and mildly heated conversation ensues and abates without any physical contact, and Officer Ellis explains that conversations in the police station do not require use of rank. Officer Ellis then shakes Zach Bybee’s hand and assures him that he is on his side and not to take the incident personally, as he himself has forgotten to use rank when outside the station at times.
“Despite being an eyewitness to the incident, Chief Bybee does not charge his son with improper use of his official police bodycam, nor does he charge his son with insubordination. The entire incident appears ‘staged’ with everyone but Officer Ellis knowing that bodycams have been improperly activated,” Bertram said.
“…Officer Ellis earned his reputation in this community through hard work, and he does have a family to support. He is willing to allow his reputation to speak for itself and allow the Mayor’s reputation to speak for itself, but he will not allow the Mayor or anyone else to publish outright lies about him that could prejudice his future employment and his career in law enforcement,” Bertram added. “Those actions and any further actions of that sort will be addressed through the legal system, not in the newspapers or on Facebook.”
According to Bertram, Ellis agreed not to publicize this situation and he intends to keep his word. He respectfully requested that everyone involved “cease and desist in actions that only cause more confusion and simply allow the legal system to perform its role.”
Bertram stated that a copy of this correspondence was also being forwarded to legal representatives of the City of Monticello who were involved in the negotiations and members of the Monticello City Council.
When reached for comment on Friday, Sexton said: “All records are available upon (open) records request. That’s the only way to know the truth and remove all the speculation.”