GARFIELD, NJ Garfield’s police chief should not have kicked a member of the police union out of the room and threatened to fire him during a closed-door meeting, an appeals court affirmed on Monday.
The ruling stems from a 2011 incident where union members, Officer Pedro Gongora and Detective Everett Garnto Jr. sat down with Capt. Raymond Kovach and Police Chief Kevin Amos to discuss how officers would respond when a member of the force was in trouble. Amos considered changing the policy, which had called for all officers to respond when a single member was in trouble. Some members thought changing the policy would put officers in danger.
At a pause in the conversation, Gongora said, “Chief, [with] all due respect, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. We don’t know what we have,” according to the decision by the appeals court.
What happened next is disputed but eventually, Amos asked Gongora to leave the office. Gongora initially refused causing Amos to more forcefully tell the union member to exit if he wanted to keep his job, according to the court decision.
When Amos opened the door, Gongora left. Amos testified that Gongora had become agitated and wouldn’t let the chief get a word in.
The appeals court said that union members were engaging in protected negotiations and that Amos should not have threatened Gongora’s employment. The decision affirms an earlier ruling by the Public Employment Relations Commission.
Police Benevolent Association Local 46 filed an unfair practices charge against the city arguing that when Amos threatened to fire Gongora, he was hampering the union members’ ability to argue on behalf of its members.
The court found the meeting fell under the law’s protections that establish rights for discussing grievances between unions and city officials.
“The meeting here occurred in the Chief’s office, behind closed doors. Even Chief Amos testified that Gongora was not insubordinate,” the decision said. “There was no threat to workplace discipline, order or respect that justified a forfeiture of statutory protection.”
“The city has failed to show … that Chief Amos’s actions were justified.”