Sunday, April 9, 2017

Arbitrator rejects termination for use of excessive force, finds disparate treatment

Arbitrator Richard Miller has modified the termination of a police officer for the City of St. Paul, MN. The officer had been dismissed for what the City believed to be the excessive use of force.

On the evening of June 24, 2016, the officer and his partner were on patrol when they arrived on the scene of a reported fight involving a least one individual who was alleged to have a weapon. After conducting an initial investigation, the two received a radio transmission from the Department's K-9 officer who informed them that he had located an individual matching the reported description. Before grievant's arrival, the K-9 officer had released his dog on the individual. When grievant arrived on the scene the dog had the suspect on the ground, dragging him in circles on the pavement. Grievant, believing the suspect noncompliant with the officers instructions, and concerned that he had a weapon, administered two standing kicks to the suspect's midsection. After 14 seconds, believing the suspect was still not complying, the officer kicked him again. Grievant directed the kicks to the midsection because he did not want to accidentally kick the dog, and because he wanted to avoid kicking the suspect in the head, which would have been considered deadly force. After he was subdued, the suspect was transported to the hospital where an examination showed he had rib fractures on both sides and a collapsed lung. He did not have a weapon.

The new police chief, who had assumed that position on June 23rd,  learned of the incident from a local representative of the NAACP and ordered an investigation. Following the investigation the Chief disciplined both grievant and the K-9 officer. The Chief offered the K-9 officer a 30 day suspension in lieu of termination if he agreed not to contest the suspension. Grievant was offered no such option and his employment was terminated. That termination was grieved and ultimately submitted to Arbitrator Miller for resolution.

Arbitrator Miller converted the termination to a thirty day suspension. He found that grievant's act of kicking the suspect was not expressly prohibited by the Department's policy and was not contrary to the training grievant had received. He also noted that grievant had been faced with "a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation involving an uncooperative witness."  Finally, he noted the disparity between the discipline imposed on grievant and that imposed on the K-9 officer:

It is difficult to believe that being dragged on the pavement in circles by a K-9 who is biting your leg is less traumatic and painful than being kicked in the torso three times. Thus, whether or not the Grievant's misconduct was more or less egregious than the misconduct of [the K-9 officer] misses the point. Both their actions were egregious and not distinguishable to warrant one receiving 30-day suspension and the other termination. They both deserve to be penalized for their actions, but the penalty should be the same for their misconduct.

Observing that the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission had initially recommended a thirty day suspension for grievant, Arbitrator Miller overturned the termination and reduced the suspension to the recommended thirty days.

Arbitrator Miller's award can be found here.

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