The Suburbanite
  • Resignation the preferred path for some officers

  • Cost, time spent on arbitration influences both local governments and embattled officers.

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  • There’s a saying that termination is the death penalty of employment law.
    For that reason, some public employers ask embattled law enforcement officers to resign so they have a second chance in the profession. In exchange, municipalities are spared the time and money spent in a drawn-out appeals process, and the possible negative attention resulting from an officer’s firing.
    The Repository tracked law enforcement firings from all Stark County police departments and the county Sheriff’s Office dating back to 2003. As part of a voluminous public records request, the newspaper in some cases also requested the documents of officers who faced termination but were either encouraged or chose to resign.
    An analysis shows that arbitrators overturned an officer’s firing in 10 out of 13 cases during the past decade.
    Mary Lou Sekula, an attorney representing Canton and Massillon patrol officers, said arbitration decisions might appear to favor the union because they don’t take into account the officers who resigned prior to being fired.
    “If someone resigns prior to an arbitration, it may be that was an arbitration the union may not have won and that was a consideration,” she said.
    Canton officials say they can’t recall ever winning an arbitration case involving a fired officer. However, at least four officers facing a seemingly automatic termination stepped down before being punished.
    Most notably, officer Bobby Cutts Jr. resigned in 2007 after being charged with killing his girlfriend, Jessie Davis, and their unborn child. Cutts was fired for a departmental infraction years earlier but reinstated by an arbitrator who found there to be little evidence against him.
    In 2004, Keith Pressley pleaded guilty to helping a drug dealer file a phony insurance claim. In 2012, patrolman Michael Reese was convicted of domestic violence. Both officers resigned. A felony or domestic violence conviction prohibits a person from carrying a firearm under state law. Detective Donald King violated a last-chance agreement when he was convicted of drunken driving in 2008. A week after his arrest, King informed supervisors he would retire.
    Hartville Police Chief Lawrence Dordea often allows officers to resign unless a serious crime has been committed. It reduces the chance the department gets bad publicity and it eliminates the expense of going to arbitration.
    Dordea said he’s negotiated four or five resignations in his career, which includes several years as Alliance police chief.
    “I found that it’s more successful, cleaner if you will, to allow the resignation,” Dordea said. “ ... They are young and make mistakes, it (a resignation) is far better on their record and maybe it’s a learning tool for them. So if they want to continue in police work, it won’t be a black mark in their record for future employment.”
    Page 2 of 3 - The same goes for Perry Township, which has sought resignations from some officers, including those charged with breaking the law.
    Perry Township Law Director Charles Hall said there’s nothing that requires the township to write a letter of a recommendation for an employee, so it makes sense to part ways with someone if they recognize they violated the law or department rules.
    “Some feel a sense of contrition,” he said. “They know they are wrong and they know they violated either the criminal code or the department’s rules so they say, ‘Let me clear the slate and go elsewhere.’ That’s typically what happens.
    “In many instances, if a person is a full-time employee and subject to a union collective bargaining agreement, it’s more expedient and cost effective to allow a person to go on than going through the process, charging the employee and having a hearing and then going to an arbitrator.”
    Fired Perry Township police officer Janine (England) Senanayake claims in a federal lawsuit filed in February that trustees discriminated against her based on gender, race and national origin because they did not allow her to resign like some white, male officers facing termination. She is a native of Sri Lanka. The township has repeatedly denied the allegation, pointing instead to her conduct and status as a probationary officer.
    Senanayake was fired in 2009 by trustees after a cruiser camera video surfaced of her and then-Police Chief Timothy Escola kissing and caressing each other during a trip to Cincinnati to pick up a prisoner wanted on a warrant for burglary. Trustees accepted Escola’s retirement a day before the video went viral, but opted to fire Senanayake a week later.
    She says others were treated differently. One officer was allowed to resign after calling in sick to attend a Browns’ game. Another officer filed a false workers’ compensation claim after breaking his leg while engaging in horseplay at the station. The former chief wanted to fire him, according to his notes of the incident, but allowed the officer to resign instead.
    Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney in Cleveland representing Senanayake, said it took her a year before she found another job as a deputy with the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department. Senanayake, however, was also fired from that job last year after a reported relationship with her supervisor there. She has filed a similar discrimination complaint against Delaware County officials.
    Friedman said he sees more employers offering employees the choice to resign in lieu of being fired.
    “They want to avoid arbitration, they want to avoid litigation and they want to avoid administrative actions,” he said. “ ... From an employee’s perspective they have to weigh heavily the choice if it is given. If you’re fired as opposed to resigning you may be denied unemployment benefits, you may be waiving other rights that would ordinarily be available to you.”
    Page 3 of 3 - SECOND CHANCE
    The Canton Police Patrolmen’s Association contract allows an officer to resign in writing prior to any disciplinary hearing without the approval of the safety director, or at any point during the hearing (but not after) subject to the director’s approval. Either way, the employee’s personnel file must reflect a voluntary resignation.
    “If somebody screws up, and they know they screwed up, it’s a tool (in the contract) that we put in there for our guys to be able walk out and not have it reflect on their job record when they leave,” said Bill Adams, union president.
    Despite the union’s victories in a series of arbitration cases, Adams said, he’s tried to work more closely with the city to resolve disciplinary cases before they reach an arbitrator.
    “We go in weighing all the evidence against the person and if we feel this is a fair and just punishment, we take the punishment before we even go to arbitration,” Adams said.
    Staff writer Kelli Young contributed to this report.
    Reach Matthew at 330-580-8527 or matthew.rink@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @mrinkREP

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