Discipline Case Involves Computer Access, No Contact Order, And Ex-Girlfriend

In July 2006, the Franklin County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous e-mail from someone purporting to observe a deputy sheriff, whose last name began with a “T,” driving a cruiser through the parking lot “at Bourbon Street on Brice Road one night” when a girl coming out of a bar pressed her breast against the driver’s side of the cruiser. The e-mail indicated that the deputy sheriff exited the cruiser laughing, posing for pictures with the girl instead of arresting her. A deputy whose last name began with “T” was questioned by his sergeant about the incident, which he denied in writing, and the anonymous complaint was filed as unfounded.

Approximately two months later, an official complaint was filed against the same deputy by a young female indicating that 11 hours earlier the deputy had come to her house screaming and yelling, entered the house after being told not to, and that the police were called.

The complainant offered that she had dated the deputy while he was going through a divorce and broke up with him four weeks previous; that he had made unwanted phone calls to her; that he had “run people through LEADS,” a law enforcement computer system; and had threatened to shoot himself. An internal affairs investigation ended with the deputy’s termination.

An arbitrator overturned the termination. The Arbitrator turned first to the Department’s charge that the deputy had disobeyed “laws and ordinances” when, on three occasions, he accessed LEADS for personal reasons unrelated to his law enforcement duties. The Arbitrator concluded that while the deputy did access LEADS, his doing so did not constitute an “unlawful utilization” because he did not “use the information in support of illegal activities, nor did he disseminate the information so accessed.” Such actions on the part of the deputy did, however, constitute a misuse of computer resources in violation of the Department’s rules, for which other deputies were given a one-day suspension.

The Arbitrator next turned to the Department’s charge that the deputy neglected duty by meeting with his girlfriend during the course of his shift, having his picture taken with her, and allowing her and others to sit in his police cruiser. In holding that the charge did not support termination, the Arbitrator commented: “At all times the deputy remained in the patrol zone to which he was assigned, remained in radio contact, and responded to calls he received. To the extent that he was admittedly pursuing personal business on the cited occasions, he was technically inattentive to his duties. It is to be observed that the Department’s rules do not prohibit deputies from pursuing any and all personal business while on duty, but only that which would cause them to neglect or be inattentive to duty. The Sheriff’s Office failed to produce affirmative evidence of factual instances of neglect or inattention to duty. Other deputies found guilty of violating the same rules in a much more egregious manner received lesser discipline than the deputy.”

The last charge against the deputy was that he violated a “no contact” order issued at the start of the internal affairs investigation. The deputy contacted a witness the day preceding his internal affairs interview after receiving a no contact order on three separate occasions.

In holding that the charge did not support the deputy’s termination, the Arbitrator concluded that the deputy “telephoned the witness to determine if she had been interviewed by the Internal Affairs’ Bureau, for he viewed her as a favorable witness to his cause. There is no compelling evidence that the deputy’s contact with her was designed or intended to influence her or otherwise affect the integrity of the Bureau’s investigation into the alleged misconduct. The Arbitrator finds and determines that it is proper and appropriate in evaluating a charge of insubordination to examine the circumstances and frame of mind of one charged with the violation of the rule in determining the reasonableness of the penalty imposed for the violation. Here the deputy’s insubordination in contacting the witness did not constitute a knowing, intentional violation of the order not to discuss the investigation.”

In summary, the Arbitrator found that the deputy was “a hard-working deputy with a great work record who made intermittent mistakes of judgment over a brief period in which he became involved with the complainant as a result of the personal injuries he was then experiencing, which has since passed. Most significant is the fact that he cooperated with the investigation, told the truth and – more importantly – is fully supported in his quest for reinstatement by his chain of command. And, the deputy’s alleged misconduct was not deemed by the Sheriff’s Office to be sufficient to remove him from the active and satisfactory performance of his duties during the eight months the investigation took. Consistent with the level of the deputy’s misconduct and the principles of progressive discipline, the Arbitrator finds that the appropriate punishment is a suspension of 20 working days without pay.”

Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, 124 LA 654 (Bell, 2007).

This article appears in the March 2008 issue