Sunday, August 17, 2014

Arbitrator upholds grievance of Miami police officer terminated for fatal shooting

Arbitrator Martin Soll has found that the termination of a Miami police officer was without just cause.

Grievant was dismissed following his involvement in a fatal shooting. He was part of a joint task force investigating suspected gang activity in Miami. As a result of a request from another officer to stop a car leaving a bar believed to be frequented by gang members, grievant and several other task force members stopped the vehicle. Grievant approached the car and directed the driver to "show your hands." The driver did not  comply, but according to grievant, appeared to reach for what grievant believed to be a weapon. Grievant yelled at the driver "don't do it"  and when the driver continued, grievant fired three shots, killing the driver and wounding the passenger. In fact, the driver had no weapon but what grievant perceived to be a weapon was actually a cell phone.

The shooting was investigated by the Department's Firearms Review Board, and the Board concluded that the firing was unjustified and in violation of the Department's Use of Force Policy. The Chief concurred and terminated the employment of the grievant. The Chief's reasons were summarized in four specific charges, including (i) an allegation that the evidence concerning the shooting was inconsistent with grievant's statement, (ii) a conclusion that neither grievant nor any other person was in imminent danger of death or serious injury, (iii) an allegation that the evidence was inconsistent with grievant's statement that he had seen a black object he believed to be a gun, and (iv) a charge that grievant should not have approached the vehicle but should have instead retreated.

The Union (FOP Lodge No. 20) was unable to resolve the dismissal in the grievance procedure, and submitted the dispute to arbitration before Arbitrator Martin Soll. Based primarily on his factual findings, Arbitrator Soll concluded that the City had failed to meet its burden of proof on the four charges. He concluded that in fact the evidence was consistent with grievant's statement concerning both the shooting and grievant's perception of a weapon. Regarding the second and third specifications, Arbitrator Soll found that the Firearms Review Board had concluded, and the evidence at the hearing supported a finding, that  grievant "reasonably believed he saw what appeared to be a weapon." The Arbitrator found further that there was no basis for the charge that grievant should have retreated,and there was no support for the allegation that grievant had violated the Deadly Force Policy. The Arbitrator found nothing in the Department's Policy requiring  retreat, but instead observed that it specifically provided "it must be remembered that by law, an officer need not retreat in his/her efforts to lawfully control a subject ...".

Arbitrator Soll also noted that, while not determinative, the Office of the Miami-Dade County State Attorney had investigated the shooting and deemed it justified.

Finding no support for the City's allegations the Arbitrator ordered the City to reinstate grievant with back pay

Arbitrator Soll's award can be found here.

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