Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Tony Plo­het­ski AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF tplo­het­ski@states­; 445-3605

Judge says ar­biter has author­ity to OK re­in­state­ment of of­fi­cer dis­missed by Chief Acevedo

A judge ruled Wed­nes­day that an in­de­pen­dent ar­bi­tra­tor had proper author­ity to re­in­state an Austin po­lice of­fi­cer who was fired in 2008 amid al­le­ga­tions of as­sault and dis­hon­esty.

State District Judge Suzanne Cov­ing­ton de­nied claims by city lawyers that ar­bi­tra­tor John B. Barnard of Dal­las ex­ceeded his role in re­turn­ing Sgt. Nedith Tor­res to the force ear­lier this year.

Barnard wrote in his opin­ion that al­though al­le­ga­tions of dis­hon­esty against Tor­res were true, Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo should have more strongly con­sid­ered Tor­res’ record in de­ter­min­ing pun­ish­ment. He said Tor­res should have re­ceived a writ­ten rep­ri­mand in­stead of be­ing fired — an opin­ion that Acevedo re­jected and took to court.

“We knew it was a long shot, but when we deal with se­ri­ous acts of mis­con­duct, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the greater com­mu­nity and the men and women of the Austin Po­lice Depart­ment to leave no stone un­turned in our pur­suit of ex­cel­lence and our pur­suit of the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards,” Acevedo said.

Austin at­tor­ney Tom Stri­b­ling, who is rep­re­sent­ing Tor­res, said, “We are very pleased with the judge’s rul­ing and hope that the city will com­ply with this or­der and get Sgt. Tor­res back to work soon.”

City lawyers ap­pealed Barnard’s de­ci­sion in state district court in Fe­bru­ary — a rare le­gal move. Ac­cord­ing to state law, the opin­ions of ar­bi­tra­tors can be ap­pealed to a district court if ar­bi­tra­tors lacked or ex­ceeded their author­ity. Of­fi­cers or po­lice of­fi­cials also can ap­peal if they think the ar­bi­tra­tor’s opin­ion was based on “fraud, col­lu­sion or other un­law­ful means.”

City attorneys did not specif­i­cally say how Barnard ex­ceeded his author­ity. Acevedo said the rul­ing con­flicted with the com­mu­nity’s de­sires.

Of­fi­cials have said an in­ci­dent be­tween Tor­res and his wife be­gan when she found pho­to­graphs of him and an­other woman in bed to­gether. A dis­ci­plinary memo said Tor­res’ wife told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that she con­fronted him and that her re­fusal to re­turn the cam­era led to a strug­gle. Tor­res was dis­hon­est by deny­ing he hurt his wife, the memo said.

Barnard said in his rul­ing that the ev­i­dence in the case could be de­scribed as “cir­cum­stan­tial.”

Sgt. Wayne Vin­cent, pres­i­dent of the Austin po­lice union, said Wed­nes­day that he is pleased Tor­res will be able to re­turn to work.

“We knew there was no ba­sis for this ap­peal,” he said.

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