Discharge Not Warranted For Bringing Live Chicken To Shift Briefing

Kraig Stuxness is a deputy sheriff with the Riverside County, California Sheriff’s Department. The County terminated Stuxness after he brought a live chicken into the detention center in order to play a practical joke on a fellow deputy during a shift change briefing. In deciding to terminate his employment, the County found that Struxness had violated department general orders by engaging in horseplay and by being dishonest on two occasions – first, by telling his fellow sergeants that he had permission from their supervisor to bring the chicken into the jail and play the practical joke, and, second, by later lying to investigators by claiming not to recall what he had told his fellow sergeants about whether he had permission.

Stuxness appealed his termination to a hearing officer, the equivalent of binding arbitration. The Arbitrator found that Struxness had engaged in the acts of horseplay and had misrepresented to his fellow sergeants that he had permission from their supervisor to bring the chicken into the jail facility. However, the Arbitrator also found that the County failed to prove Struxness had lied to investigators when he claimed he did not recall what he said to his peers regarding whether he had obtained permission to bring the chicken into the jail. Because he found only one act of misrepresentation, the Arbitrator reinstated Struxness with back pay and benefits, and imposed a 30-day suspension.

The County challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in the California Court of Appeals. The Court turned away the County’s appeal, finding the hearing officer acted within his discretion.

The County took the position that any lie told by a law enforcement officer warrants termination. The Court disagreed, observing “the hearing officer found that the subject of the lie, viewed in context which includes the fact that Struxness is a 13-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Department and has had an exemplary career, did not warrant the ultimate sanction of terminating Struxness’s employment. Because we cannot say the hearing officer abused his discretion in making that finding, we must reject the County’s claim on appeal.”

Riverside County Sheriff’s Department v. Zigman, 2005 WL 2901708 (Cal.App. 2005).

This article appears in the December 2005 issue