FIRED/REHIRED

Since 2006, at least 1,881 of­fi­cers have been dis­missed from 37 of the na­tion’s largest po­lice de­part­ments for be­hav­ior that be­trayed the public’s trust. Of those, 451 ap­pealed and won their jobs back.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY KIMBRIELL KELLY, WES­LEY LOW­ERY AND STEVEN RICH

Since 2006, the na­tion’s largest po­lice de­part­ments have fired at least 1,881 of­fi­cers for mis­con­duct that be­trayed the public’s trust, from cheat­ing on over­time to un­jus­ti­fied shoot­ings. But The Wash­ing­ton Post has found that de­part­ments have been forced to re­in­state more than 450 of­fi­cers af­ter ap­peals re­quired by union con­tracts.

Most of the of­fi­cers re­gained their jobs when po­lice chiefs were over­ruled by ar­bi­tra­tors, typ­i­cally lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the un­der­ly­ing mis­con­duct was undis­puted, but ar­bi­tra­tors of­ten con­cluded that the fir­ings were un­jus­ti­fied be­cause de­part­ments had been too harsh, missed dead­lines, lacked suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence or failed to in­ter­view wit­nesses.

A San An­to­nio po­lice of­fi­cer caught on a dash cam chal­leng­ing a hand­cuffed man to fight him for the chance to be re­leased was re­in­stated in Fe­bru­ary. In the Dis­trict, an of­fi­cer con­victed of sex­u­ally abus­ing a young woman in his pa­trol car was or­dered re­turned to the force in 2015. And in Bos­ton, an of­fi­cer was re­turned to work in 2012 de­spite be­ing ac­cused of ly­ing, drunk­en­ness and driv­ing a sus­pected gun­man from the scene of a night­club killing.

The chiefs say the ap­peals process leaves lit­tle mar­gin for er­ror. Yet po­lice agen­cies some­times sab­o­tage their own at­tempts to shed trou­bled of­fi­cers by mak­ing pro­ce­dural mis­takes. The re­sult is that po­lice chiefs have booted hun­dreds of of­fi­cers they have deemed un­fit to be in their ranks, only to be com­pelled to take them back and re­turn them to the streets with guns and badges.

“It’s de­mor­al­iz­ing, but not just to the chief,” said Charles H. Ram­sey, for­mer po­lice com­mis­sioner in Philadel­phia and

chief in the Dis­trict. Philadel­phia and the Dis­trict to­gether have had to re­hire 80 fired of­fi­cers since 2006, three of them twice.

“It’s de­mor­al­iz­ing to the rank and file who re­ally don’t want to have those kinds of peo­ple in their ranks,” Ram­sey said. “It causes a tremen­dous amount of anx­i­ety in the public. Our cred­i­bil­ity is shot when­ever these things hap­pen.”

The Post’s find­ings il­lus­trate the ob­sta­cles lo­cal po­lice agen­cies face in hold­ing their own ac­count­able at a crit­i­cal mo­ment for polic­ing: Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has in­di­cated that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will cur­tail the strat­egy of fed­eral in­ter­ven­tion in de­part­ments con­fronted with al­le­ga­tions of sys­temic of­fi­cer mis­con­duct, even as con­tro­ver­sial po­lice shoot­ings con­tinue to un­der­mine public con­fi­dence.

Na­tion­wide, the re­in­state­ment of fired of­fi­cers has not been com­pre­hen­sively stud­ied or tracked. No national data­base logs ter­mi­na­tions. Some fir­ings re­ceive lo­cal pub­lic­ity, but many go un­re­ported. Some states shield po­lice per­son­nel records — in­clud­ing fir­ings — from public dis­clo­sure.

To in­ves­ti­gate how of­ten fired of­fi­cers were re­turned to their jobs, The Post filed open records re­quests with the na­tion’s 55 largest mu­nic­i­pal and county po­lice forces. Thirty-seven de­part­ments com­plied with the re­quest, dis­clos­ing that they had fired a com­bined 1,881 of­fi­cers since 2006. Of those of­fi­cers, 451 suc­cess­fully ap­pealed and won their jobs back.

The of­fi­cers’ names and de­tails were avail­able in about half of the re­in­state­ment cases: 151 of the of­fi­cers had been fired for con­duct un­be­com­ing, and 88 had been ter­mi­nated for dis­hon­esty, ac­cord­ing to a review of in­ter­nal po­lice doc­u­ments, ap­peals records, court files and news re­ports.

At least 33 of the of­fi­cers had been charged with crimes. Of these, 17 had been con­victed, most of mis­de­meanors.

Eight of­fi­cers were fired and rehired by their de­part­ments more than once.

“To over­turn a po­lice chief’s de­ci­sion, ex­cept in cases of fact er­rors, is a dis­ser­vice to the good or­der of the depart­ment,” said San An­to­nio Po­lice Chief Wil­liam McManus, who in Fe­bru­ary was or­dered to re­in­state Of­fi­cer Matthew Belver for a sec­ond time. “It also un­der­mines a chief ’s author­ity and ig­nores the chief ’s un­der­stand­ing of what serves the best in­ter­est of the com­mu­nity and the depart­ment.”

In the Dis­trict, ar­bi­tra­tors have or­dered the city to re­hire 39 of­fi­cers since 2006, more than half of them be­cause ar­bi­tra­tors con­cluded that the depart­ment missed dead­lines to com­plete its in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. One of­fi­cer, con­victed of as­sault af­ter he was caught on video at­tack­ing a shoe store em­ployee, was fired in 2015 and re­in­stated in 2016 af­ter an ar­bi­tra­tor con­cluded that po­lice had missed the dead­line by seven days, ar­bi­tra­tion records show.

D.C. Po­lice Chief Peter New­sham said he dis­agreed with the ar­bi­tra­tors’ con­clu­sions on when the clock started in those cases. “The public has to suf­fer be­cause some­body vi­o­lated an ad­min­is­tra­tive rule,” New­sham said, adding that two-thirds of the of­fi­cers re­in­stated be­cause of missed in­ves­tiga­tive dead­lines are no longer on the D.C. force.

Po­lice unions ar­gue that the right to ap­peal ter­mi­na­tions through ar­bi­tra­tion pro­tects of­fi­cers from ar­bi­trary pun­ish­ment or be­ing sec­ond-guessed for their split-sec­ond de­ci­sions. Unions con­tend that po­lice chiefs are prone to over­reach, es­pe­cially when there is public or po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to fire of­fi­cers. In in­ter­views, lo­cal and national union of­fi­cials said some of the 451 re­in­stated of­fi­cers should never have been fired in the first place.

“They’re held to a higher stan­dard,” said James Pasco, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the national Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice. “Their work is con­stantly scru­ti­nized to a far higher de­gree. You very sel­dom see any phone-cam in­dict­ments of trash col­lec­tors or util­ity work­ers.”

Lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments have of­ten been crit­i­cized in re­cent years as not hold­ing their of­fi­cers ac­count­able in fa­tal shoot­ings, or in cases of bru­tal­ity and cor­rup­tion. To ad­dress the out­cry from the public, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice has em­ployed its author­ity to in­ves­ti­gate po­lice de­part­ments for civil rights vi­o­la­tions and to force re­forms. Un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, Jus­tice launched dozens of these in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The tac­tic was used, for ex­am­ple, in the af­ter­math of the 2014 fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son, Mo.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, has in­di­cated that lo­cal of­fi­cials should take the lead in polic­ing their own de­part­ments. “I think there’s con­cern that good po­lice of­fi­cers and good de­part­ments can be sued by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice when you just have in­di­vid­u­als within a depart­ment who have done wrong,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said dur­ing his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing this year.

Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials re­cently told The Post that the depart­ment will be more ju­di­cious in launch­ing civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“The At­tor­ney Gen­eral has ex­plic­itly said that ‘po­lice of­fi­cers who abuse their sa­cred trust are made to an­swer for their mis­con­duct’ and that ‘the Depart­ment of Jus­tice will hold ac­count­able any law en­force­ment of­fi­cer who vi­o­lates the civil rights of our cit­i­zens by us­ing ex­ces­sive force.’ Any as­ser­tion to the con­trary is flat out wrong and in­cred­i­bly ir­re­spon­si­ble,” said Ian D. Prior, a Depart­ment of Jus­tice spokesman, in a writ­ten state­ment.

“What the At­tor­ney Gen­eral does not be­lieve, how­ever, is that the un­con­sti­tu­tional ac­tions of one po­lice of­fi­cer should re­sult in oner­ous and in­ef­fec­tive agree­ments be­tween the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments that pre­vent law en­force­ment from re­duc­ing vi­o­lent crime and pro­tect­ing the public,’ ” Prior said in the state­ment.

But in a speech to law en­force­ment of­fi­cers re­cently, Pres­i­dent Trump made com­ments that were widely in­ter­preted as con­don­ing po­lice vi­o­lence against “thugs” who are taken into cus­tody. He told of­fi­cers: “[P]lease don’t be too nice.”

“When you guys put some­body in the car and you’re pro­tect­ing their head . ... I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Trump said.

The White House later said the pres­i­dent had been jok­ing.

The 37 de­part­ments that com­plied with the The Post’s re­quest for records em­ploy nearly 91,000 of­fi­cers. The nearly 1,900 fir­ings and the 451 re­hir­ings show both how rare it is for de­part­ments to fire of­fi­cers and how dif­fi­cult it is to keep many of those from re­turn­ing.

“It’s the frus­trat­ing part of my job,” said Bos­ton Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Wil­liam B. Evans, who has been com­pelled to re­hire four of­fi­cers. “Most of the peo­ple we ter­mi­nate [it] is clearly for good rea­son.”

Fir­ings un­done

In case af­ter case, ar­bi­tra­tors have re­quired po­lice chiefs to take back of­fi­cers the chiefs no longer want in their ranks.

In the Dis­trict, po­lice were told to re­hire an of­fi­cer who al­legedly forged pros­e­cu­tors’ sig­na­tures on court doc­u­ments. In Texas, po­lice had to re­in­state an of­fi­cer who was in­ves­ti­gated for shoot­ing up the truck driven by his ex-girl­friend’s new man. In Philadel­phia, po­lice were com­pelled to re­in­state an of­fi­cer de­spite vi­ral video of him strik­ing a woman in the face. In Florida, po­lice were or­dered to re­in­state an of­fi­cer fired for fa­tally shoot­ing an un­armed man.

“He is be­ing paid to pro­tect and serve us as cit­i­zens. But he takes my child’s life,” Sheila McNeil, the mother of the man who was killed by the of­fi­cer in Florida, said at a public meet­ing in 2015. “I don’t un­der­stand how he can still be out here on the street. What fair­ness is that?”

The 37 de­part­ments that re­ported re­hir­ing of­fi­cers have one com­mon­al­ity: a po­lice union con­tract that guar­an­tees an ap­peal of dis­ci­plinary mea­sures.

Po­lice union­iza­tion be­gan around the turn of the 20th cen­tury and spread rapidly in the 1960s and ’70s as states passed laws al­low­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing by public work­ers. To­day, most public em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing po­lice of­fi­cers, have some form of col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing rights.

On most po­lice forces, of­fi­cers ac­cused of wrong­do­ing are sub­ject to in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tions to de­ter­mine whether they vi­o­lated depart­ment poli­cies. If the of­fi­cers are found to have breached depart­ment poli­cies, po­lice chiefs, su­per­in­ten­dents or po­lice boards can dis­ci­pline them.

The mul­ti­year con­tracts ne­go­ti­ated by po­lice unions en­sure that dis­ci­pline may be ap­pealed — typ­i­cally through ar­bi­tra­tion, a process that brings in out­side par­ties, of­ten lawyers who spe­cial­ize in la­bor law, to review the pun­ish­ments and rule on the ap­peals.

That is how po­lice Sgt. John Blu­men­thal re­turned to work in Ok­la­homa City.

On July 7, 2007, a man was ly­ing hand­cuffed on the ground when Blu­men­thal ran up and kicked him in the head, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral other of­fi­cers. Blu­men­thal’s fel­low of­fi­cers re­ported the in­ci­dent to in­ter­nal af­fairs, and months later Blu­men­thal was fired and con­victed of mis­de­meanor as­sault and bat­tery.

Two years later, an ar­bi­tra­tor or­dered the depart­ment to re­turn Blu­men­thal to work. The rea­sons are un­clear, be­cause the records of the pro­ceed­ings are not public. To­day, Blu­men­thal, who did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, is a mo­tor­cy­cle of­fi­cer.

“The mes­sage is huge,” said Ok­la­homa City Po­lice Chief Bill Citty, who said he loses about 80 per­cent of ar­bi­tra­tion cases. “Of­fi­cers know all they have to do is grieve it, ar­bi­trate it and get their jobs back.”

One of the pri­mary de­ter­mi­na­tions an ar­bi­tra­tor makes is whether a depart­ment ad­hered to the rules when dis­ci­plin­ing an of­fi­cer.

“Were all of the cor­rect in­ves­tiga­tive steps fol­lowed?” said Arnold Zack, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the National Academy of Ar­bi­tra­tors who teaches la­bor law at Har­vard Univer­sity. “And was there a vi­o­la­tion of any pol­icy, and if so, what should the dis­ci­pline be?”

Zack said that po­lice chiefs of­ten be­moan ar­bi­tra­tion but that many cases fall apart be­cause the de­part­ments fail to prop­erly in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions. In one Florida case, a sher­iff ’s deputy who was fired af­ter be­ing ac­cused by pros­e­cu­tors of traf­fick­ing in pain pills was re­in­stated be­cause the ar­bi­tra­tor found that the depart­ment did not ad­e­quately in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions be­fore fir­ing him.

Many of the ar­bi­tra­tors who han­dled the cases ex­am­ined by The Post de­clined to be in­ter­viewed about their de­ci­sions, say­ing that they do not dis­cuss their rul­ings.

In Chicago, union of­fi­cials say the ap­peals process saved the job of an of­fi­cer who was un­fairly fired for fail­ing to pay his park­ing tick­ets.

In Oc­to­ber 2015, Bill Caro, at the time an of­fi­cer with 28 years’ ser­vice in the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment, was ter­mi­nated af­ter he failed to pay nine park­ing tick­ets to­tal­ing $1,471. The depart­ment had warned him to pay the un­paid fines and had given him a dead­line that he missed.

Caro even­tu­ally paid the tick­ets, but the depart­ment fired him any­way, records show.

He ap­pealed, and in August 2016, a lo­cal judge who served as ar­bi­tra­tor in the case deemed the pun­ish­ment “ex­ces­sive” and or­dered that Caro be re­turned to the force. His fir­ing was re­duced to a five-year sus­pen­sion with­out pay, mean­ing he will not re­port to work un­til 2020. Caro could not be reached for com­ment.

For 239 of­fi­cers in The Post’s study whose fir­ings were made public, the ma­jor­ity had their ter­mi­na­tions re­duced to sus­pen­sions; at least 43 re­ceived no dis­ci­pline at all. Most of the re­in­stated of­fi­cers were awarded back pay for the time they were off the force, which can stretch to sev­eral years.

“The ar­bi­tra­tor is bound by the con­tract lan­guage just as much as the depart­ment,” Zack said. “If the con­tract says you have five days to in­ves­ti­gate, and you take six days, then the fir­ing has to be over­turned.

“Does that mean some bad guys will get away with some things? Yes.”

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