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The Suburbanite
  • Canton wants arbitrator’s ruling on Harless thrown out

  • A Stark County Common Pleas judge has been asked to determine if Arbitrator Harry Graham exceeded his authority.

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  • The city has fired five police officers during the past 10 years and each one has been reinstated to the force.
    Typically, the fired officer returns to work and the city moves on.
    Until this last case.
    In a rare move, city attorneys asked a Stark County Common Pleas judge to throw out or modify the arbitrator’s 2012 decision that allows Canton patrolman Daniel Harless to return to work.
    Harless was fired last year after a review of his conduct during three traffic stops showed  he made threatening statements to motorists. During a June 8, 2011, exchange, Harless threatened to kill William Bartlett of Brewster upon learning Bartlett had a gun. He tells Bartlett, who had a concealed carry permit, he would “put 10 bullets in your ass and let you drop.”
    The video drew national attention after being posted online by Ohioans for Concealed Carry. The city later settled with Bartlett for $43,230 in federal court after Bartlett filed a lawsuit claiming his civil rights had been violated.
    Arbitrator Harry Graham overturned Harless’ firing in November 2012, writing that the officer’s conduct was defensible given that the circumstances “were fraught with danger,” occurred in a bad area of the city and that Harless was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
    Graham, who also credited the 15-year veteran with a good work record, ordered the city to reinstate Harless once the officer is medically cleared.
    APPEAL
    The city contends Graham exceeded his authority.
    In its appeal to Common Pleas Judge John G. Haas, it argues that Graham reversed Harless’ termination but did not permit the city to impose any discipline, despite admissions by Harless that at least some of his conduct violated department rules and that the violations were caught on video. The city said it has rights under the police union contract to impose discipline and questioned why Graham placed no deadline for Harless to return to work.
    Harless’ attorney Michael W. Piotrowski said the court should dismiss the city’s appeal because it missed the filing deadline and because the arbitrator answered the central question of whether Harless was fired for a justifiable reason. He said the city is appealing only because it is unhappy with the outcome, which is not one of the provisions that state laws allow a court to throw out an arbitrator’s award.
    Messages left for Piotrowski were not returned. The Repository tried to reach Harless for comment through the Canton Police Patrolmen’s Association without success.
    WHY NOW?
    Kristen Bates Aylward, deputy chief counsel for the Canton City Law Department, said the city’s court appeal is perhaps the first time it has tried to overturn an arbitrator’s ruling in a discharge dispute. She said many employers hesitate to file an appeal because the efforts often are unsuccessful.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It’s very very rare that (arbitration rulings) are ever overturned because the standard for the court’s review is so strict under statute,” Bates Aylward said. “... The (statutes) favor finality of arbitration rulings so they don’t want them to be disturbed by the court of common pleas.”
    Bates Aylward said the city chose to appeal in light of a recent federal court rulings that found a city liable for a fired and reinstated employees’ conduct.
    Piotrowski has previously said Harless has no plans to seek reinstatement at this time. But Harless said during the arbitration hearing he wants to have the opportunity to return to work if ever declared fit for duty. He said having a firing on his personnel record could prevent him from being employed in another field.