Thursday, April 2, 2015

I Promise I Won’t Do It Again Defense

A recent Illinois Appellate court decision illustrates the difficulty of terminating a police officer through the grievance arbitration process.  In City of Des Plaines v Metropolitan Alliance of Police Chapter 240, 2015 IL App (1st) 140957, the City terminated a police officer for using unnecessary force and for failure to report that use of force.  The officer challenged his termination through grievance arbitration pursuant to the parties Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The City identified three incidents where the officer allegedly misapplied force against arrestees:  (1) in August 2010, he punched in the face a handcuffed arrestee who was seated in the back of his squad car; (2) in January 2010, he punched an arrestee in the nose inside the police station; and (3) in June 2009, he pushed an arrestee in a holding cell.  The officer had not reported any of these incidents as required by department rule.

The arbitrator issued an award (1) reinstating the officer without back pay, benefits or accumulated seniority for “time away from work” (14 months); (2) deeming the officer’s time away as “a disciplinary suspension”’ (3) conditioning the officer’s reinstatement on a “last chance” basis for a period of three years from the date of reinstatement, such that any violation of the City’s use of force and reporting policy and/or truthfulness requirements will result in immediate discharge; and (4) allowing the City, at its discretion, to provide the officer with “a reasonable amount and type of training in the appropriate use of force.”

The City appealed the arbitration award and the circuit court vacated the arbitrator’s decision on public policy grounds stating:  “The cases presented by the City clearly state a public policy against police officers assaulting prisoners and lying about matters related to the specific performance of duties of the officer.”  The Union appealed.  The Court of Appeals remanded the case for the arbitrator to make explicit findings regarding whether or not the officer “is likely to engage in such misconduct in the future.”  (I promise I won’t do it again.)

Under Illinois law, arbitration awards contrary to public policy may be set aside by the court.  This case upholds the right of an arbitrator to reinstate an officer if the arbitrator finds that the officer is unlikely to violate public policy (use excessive force) in the future.  Apparently three separate occasions of excessive force over a two year period is not an adequate predictor of future misconduct.

Finally it should be mentioned that the dissenting justice would have upheld the award without a remand.  “I would affirm this arbitral award, not because we agree with the decision, but because we are bound to follow established law regarding the deference given to arbitration awards based on a collective bargaining agreement.”