Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arbitrator finds conduct of Sheriff's deputy in stalking former fiancee provides just cause for dismissal

Grievant was employed as a deputy on the Anoka County Sheriff's Office. During his employment he began a romantic relationship with another deputy. After two years, the second deputy resigned her position with the Sheriff's office and accepted other employment. The relationship continued, however, and the two ultimately became engaged and moved in together. A wedding date was set, but approximately one month before the wedding the prospective bride called off the wedding and asked grievant to move out of her home. As described in Arbitrator Eugene C. Jensen's award:

The Grievant’s behavior toward A.P. [the former fiancée] following their “break-up” resulted in a 2/26/2014, Harassment Restraining Order (HRO), an internal affairs investigation by the Employer, a criminal investigation by Chisago County, a 5/13/2014, criminal complaint for stalking, with a judges determination that there was probable cause to support the charge, and the Grievant’s termination on 6/4/2014.

Grievant was accused, inter alia, of sending hundreds of text messages to A.P. the day after the breakup, showing up at her door bearing jewelry he wanted to return to her despite having been told to stay away from her, and violating a Harassment Restraining Order. Grievant was arrested for the violation of the HRO and spent two nights in jail.

Pursuant to a plea agreement grievant agreed to plead guilty to stalking in exchange for dismissal of the HRO violation. The agreement also provided for a stay of adjudication, a stayed jail sentence of 365 days, a mental health evaluation, and two years probation. Upon successful completion of probation, grievant would be able to seek to have the charges expunged.

Despite the Union's arguments that several of the allegations against grievant were not proven, that the stalking with which he was charged was not "stalking in the traditional sense" and that the County erroneously accepted the former fiancée’s claim that she "never wavered" from her decision to end the relationship, Arbitrator Jensen upheld the termination. He found that grievant's actions were of the type to bring discredit to the Sheriff's office and to erode the essential trust between a sheriff's office and one of its sworn peace officers. He also found that while grievant had "gained some insight" into his behaviors and was unlikely to violate probation, he continued to minimize his behavior and to shift responsibility back to the victim.

Finally he concluded that a second chance was unwarranted, observing:

...although I am optimistic that the Grievant would not let this occur again in the future, the actions that led up to the charge of gross misdemeanor stalking -- those actions that were validated by two independent investigations -- are such that the Arbitrator would be remiss if he put the Grievant back to work, either now or following a protracted suspension. His return to work would further violate the Employer’s mission statement: to operate in a “manner that preserves the public trust.” The Anoka County Sheriff’s office did what was necessary to preserve that public trust: it terminated the Grievant’s employment. For the sake of the Sheriff’s Office’s reputation alone, the Employer needed to set distance between itself and the Grievant’s actions. While it is a shame to lose a fully trained and long-serving deputy, the Arbitrator agrees with the Employer’s decision.

Arbitrator Jensen's award can be found here.

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