Public Policy Prohibits Reinstatement Of Sergeant

Beth Rist worked as a sergeant for the Ironton, Ohio Police Department until October 2008, when she was fired for making a false report. The Fraternal Order of Police referred to arbitration a grievance challenging Rist’s termination.

The Arbitrator found that in August 2008, Rist initiated a routine traffic stop. After Rist learned that the driver of the stopped vehicle, Dolly Newcombe, had expired tags and no driver’s license, Rist called Newcombe’s daughter, Jamie Sparks, and asked her to come to the scene. When Sparks arrived, “she was directed to sit behind the steering wheel.” Rist issued Sparks a ticket for driving with expired tags and indicated on the ticket that Sparks lacked proof of insurance. After Sparks paid a fine, she lost her driving privileges and unsuccessfully tried to contact Rist. In September 2008, both Sparks and Rist reported the incident to officials at the Police Department. In an interview with Detective Jim Akers, Rist acknowledged falsifying the ticket.

The City argued to the Arbitrator that Rist lied about knowing Newcombe before the traffic stop occurred. However, the Arbitrator could not find “with positive assurance” that Rist was acquainted with Newcombe prior to this incident. The Arbitrator also found that Rist did not act with “harmful intent” but was simply acting to “do a favor to the Newcombe/Sparks family.” In addition, the Arbitrator noted that Rist had 13 years of service and no prior discipline problems. The Arbitrator also found “an element of disparate treatment” in the manner the City handled the incident with Rist. Specifically, the Arbitrator pointed to evidence that a male officer who engaged in “amorous activity with a female Speedway employee while on duty” only received a written reprimand for his misconduct. The Arbitrator concluded that the City lacked just cause to discharge Rist and restored her employment. However, the Arbitrator also found that Rist’s “serious offense” merited “serious discipline” and awarded her no back pay.

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the City’s challenge to the Arbitrator’s opinion. The Court found that there was “a dominant, well-defined public policy that prohibits the reinstatement of a police officer who falsifies a report. The police force of a municipal corporation is obligated to ‘preserve the peace, protect persons and property, and obey and enforce all criminal laws of the state and the United States.’ Moreover, honesty is vital to the effective performance of these duties and to ensuring public trust and confidence in the police force. We conclude that Ohio has a dominant, well-defined public policy against the reinstatement of an officer who falsifies a police report.

“In this case, it is undisputed that Rist committed such an act. Rist violated the law and comported herself in a manner that could not bring anything but disrepute upon the department. Contrary to Rist’s assertions, the fact that she did not gain anything from her dishonesty in this case does not make her conduct any less egregious. Given Rist’s willingness to lie and break the law for an apparent stranger and without profit, how can the public expect her to react if presented with an opportunity to use her position for financial gain or to benefit friends or relatives?”

Ironton v. Rist, 2010 WL 4273235 (Ohio App. 4 Dist. 2010).

This article appears in the February 2011 issue