Police Standards Board Not Bound By Arbitrator’s Decision

Lance Parcell was an officer in the Airport Police and Fire Department of the Alaska Department of Transportation. On May 5, 2006, while on a training assignment, Parcell and two other training officers went to a bar in Sitka and Parcell became extremely intoxicated. While at the bar, Parcell slid toward a female officer on a couch and made inappropriate sexual remarks, telling her “that he wanted to make her come, that he could make her scream, and that he could push her buttons.” The female officer told him to stop, but he repeated the comments several times. Because Parcell was too intoxicated to walk home that night, another officer drove him home. When they returned to the Academy, Parcell vomited outside and then, after the hallways were cleared of recruits, he was helped into an Academy building to a room where he could sleep. Parcell apologized to the female officer in person the following day and by email several days later. Parcell stated during the internal investigation that he did not remember making these inappropriate remarks to the female officer.

On the evening of May 17, 2006, Parcell stared at another female officer while they were watching television and later sent her unwelcome text messages in which he invited her to “go on a beer run,” “go out and have fun,” and join him in the room where training officers are allowed to sleep to “talk to him if she wanted.” She told him to stop sending the messages, but he continued to do so. The following morning, Parcell sent the officer an email calling her his “sexy new friend,” telling her she had “a great ass” and “very nice tits,” and stating that he wanted to see her nipple rings. The female officer wrote an email expressing her anger with his behavior, and Parcell subsequently sent her an email apology. Parcell testified at arbitration that he was up all night drinking prior to sending the email, a fact supported by the female officer’s statement during the investigation that she smelled alcohol on Parcell when she saw him the next morning.

The Department terminated Parcell for this conduct and for what it believed to be his dishonesty in the internal affairs investigation. An arbitrator found (1) Parcell’s behavior was “totally contrary to his professional responsibility,” “sexually offensive,” and “as far over the line as one could imagine”; and (2) “although the Department did not establish that Parcell had lied, it did prove that he ‘was evasive, misleading and not forthcoming’ in the investigatory process.” By only “the slimmest margin” the Arbitrator found that Parcell should be reinstated. The Alaska Supreme Court upheld the Arbitrator’s decision, noting the “deferential standard” afforded arbitration decisions, which was “key to” its decision.

The Alaska Police Standards Council independently sought to revoke Parcell’s police certificate. The revocation proceedings were stayed pending resolution of the employment matter. When the Arbitrator’s decision was finally upheld, a hearing officer for the Council concluded that revocation of Parcell’s police certificate was unwarranted, stating that “per the stipulation of the parties, Parcell’s conduct was egregious, rude, and grossly offensive, but not sufficient to establish a lack of good moral character.” The Council disagreed with the hearing officer’s proposed decision and revoked Parcell’s certificate, leading to the Alaska Supreme Court considering his situation on a second occasion.

In a decision focused on the Council’s ability to define “good moral character” on a case-by-case basis, the Court upheld the revocation of Parcell’s certificate. The Court commented that “Parcell argues that ‘there must be a pattern of behavior to show the lack of good moral character and not one isolated incident.’ In support of his argument Parcell cites cases from other jurisdictions, but he fails to point to any precedent or clear statement establishing that this is the law in Alaska. We are not persuaded that a single transgression or incident of misconduct, no matter how egregious, never will be sufficient to support a reasonable determination that a police officer is not of good moral character. And in this case the Council relied on two separate incidents, as well as Parcell’s evasive behavior during the subsequent investigation.

“In order to show his good moral character Parcell submitted evidence to the Council that he had completed alcohol treatment and maintained his sobriety, was actively involved in his community, and that he received his local rabbi’s support. The Council’s decision did not explicitly mention this evidence of Parcell’s character, but that does not mean the Council did not consider it – the Council had no obligation to list all aspects of Parcell’s character in its decision. Even if the Council’s decision could have said more, our review is limited to determining whether the Council’s decision was reasonable.

“Parcell finally argues that in his employment case the Arbitrator and this Court did not conclude that Parcell was dishonest. Parcell correctly notes that in his employment case the Arbitrator concluded that Parcell’s ‘conduct fell short of lying,’ but the Arbitrator’s findings that Parcell admitted lying on one occasion and that Parcell was evasive during the subsequent investigation support the Council’s conclusion that Parcell was dishonest. And the fact that there is no legal requirement to terminate a police officer’s employment for minor acts of dishonesty does not limit the Council’s discretion to revoke that officer’s certification.”

Alaska Police Standards Council v. Parcell, 2015 WL 1743217 (Alaska 2015).