FoxTampaBay reports on a recent decision upholding the dismissal of the head of Tampa PD's DUI unit for being deceptive concerning a dui stop. The report discusses the award of Arbitrator John Popular which can be found here.
On January 24, 2013 Grievant received a tip from a friend (Attorney Adam Filthaut) concerning a potential dui scenario. Filthaut was reporting on the conduct of C. Phillip Campbell, an attorney adverse to Filthaut and his firm in a hotly contested local trial. As a result of the tip, grievant assigned two officers to stake out the bar involved and to be on the look out for Campbell. Grievant and Filthaut exchanged thirteen text messages before Campbell was pulled over. Another officer performed the dui tests, and arrested Campbell. Grievant initiated text and phone conversations with Filthaut advising him of the arrest. Exchanges between the two continued into the next day, with grievant asserting that only then did he then became aware of the nature of the relationship between Filthaut and Campbell.
The arrest received media attention and grievant spoke with the Chief on the 24th, but failed to advise him of the extent of his friendship with Filthaut. He acknowledged exchanging a "few" text messages with Filthaut. On the same day, grievant testified in connection with a motion for mistrial in the pending litigation. In his testimony grievant claimed that he had no contact with Filthaut after the arrest. Over the next several months the Department conducted an investigation of grievant's conduct. In March the Chief learned that in fact grievant and Filthaut had exchanged 96 text messages. On September 27, 2013 grievant's employment was terminated for untruthfulness.
The Department's policy on truthfulness, contained in a General Order dated May 6, 1994, provided:
As many of you are aware, under prior departmental administrations, the subject of untruthfulness has generated some controversy as to the appropriate level of discipline to be administered in such cases. This General Order is intended to provide a clear understanding of the Department's views on the seriousness of untruthfulness and the manner in which such cases are and will be handled in the future. The public, as well as myself demand the highest integrity and honesty of police officers....
Therefore, the General Order will confirm that untruthfulness is not tolerated by this Department and it will continue to be treated as among the most serious offenses which an employee can commit. Any sustained incident of untruthfulness of any pending or future cases will be treated in accordance with that philosophy and subject the employee to immediate termination. ...
The termination was grieved, and on September 20, 2014 Arbitrator Popular issued his award. After reviewing the evidence, he concluded:
In the arbitrator's opinion (1) the Grievant became an unwitting accomplice in the collusion of four attorney's attempt to "set up" Mr. Campbell for a DUI arrest, (2) was untruthful about the volume of communications between himself and Mr. Filthaut on January 23d, (3) misrepresented his personal relationship with Mr. Filthaut, and (4) deliberately omitted these facts in his report to Chief Castor.. In addition, his January 25, 2013 Court testimony, denying phone contact with Mr. Filthaut after the arrest, did not square with what he told the Chief. ... Given the events that unfolded between January 23 and 24th, he had to be aware that this could result in further investigation, and undoubtedly escalate to being a significant problem for both himself and the Tampa Police Department. Between the January 23rd arrest and January 25th court appearance he had a window of opportunity to truthfully provide all of the facts to his superior officers and/or the Chief. He elected not to do so. His failure to communicate all the facts to Chief Castor on January 24th, or thereafter, proved to be intentionally deceitful, therefore, is deemed "untruthful".
Arbitrator Popular found no basis for the Union's argument that progressive discipline should trump the policy of immediate termination set forth in the Department's policy. He noted the absence of any evidence that the City had ever imposed any lesser penalty for untruthfulness since the policy was issued, and concluded that immediate termination must be deemed to be the "unchallenged norm" for cases of untruthfulness.