PEORIA — A former Peoria police officer, fired last year for breaking departmental policy and what the city thought was inappropriate use of social media, has regained his job and back pay.
A Dec. 23 decision by an arbitrator held that Jeremy Layman’s posts on Facebook may or may not have been offensive — but that’s not enough to fire him.
“Just cause mandates that the City act on the Grievant’s actual words, not the public’s reaction to what they infer what Grievant meant by his words or what even the City infers to be Grievant’s meaning and intent of his words,” wrote Thomas F. Gibbons.
Gibbons’ decision means Layman, who had nearly 20 years on the force before he was fired on Feb. 22, 2018, is to be reinstated to his position as a patrol officer, receive all back wages and benefits from then until now less whatever he earned while he was not employed by the city.
The arbitrator threw out claims by the city that Layman’s conduct was unbecoming to an officer.
City Hall is likely to appeal, which means that if that occurs, Layman would be on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of that decision, said City Manager Patrick Urich. As for Gibbons’ decision, the city released a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“The City is disappointed that the Arbitrator failed to see Layman’s conduct as racially insensitive. The conduct and this decision are contrary to the beliefs the City attempts to foster among its employees and with the public it serves. We are analyzing the decision and evaluating potential avenues of appeal,” the statement said.
Layman drew attention for several potentially controversial or racially insensitive posts on Facebook. One of the Facebook posts included a picture of a shirt emblazoned with “Baby Daddy Removal Team.” Gibbons held that while the posts could be viewed as racially insensitive, as the city feels, the posts could be viewed in different ways.
“They are ambiguous, they require others to speculate or infer what the speaker meant. The casual and imprecise writing on a Facebook page only makes the meaning of Grievant’s comments that much more cloudy and hard to comprehend,” he wrote in his 25-page decision.
Additionally, Gibbons noted the city didn’t have a formal policy for social media use at the time, thus “denying Grievant with fair notice that his postings could lead to discipline.”
Layman had sued the city in federal court a few months after he was fired, saying his actions were protected by free speech. That suit was dismissed and the case was referred to Gibbons under the terms of the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the union that represents the officers.
Gibbons, did, however, find Layman violated departmental policy when he disclosed investigative information on a social media site without appropriate authority. That matter involved the theft of baby formula from one store and having it resold at another. But, the arbitrator found that wasn’t enough to fire Layman.
Layman and two other officers were charged in Peoria County Circuit Court with official misconduct in connection with a beating on May 3, 2008. Those charges were dropped against Layman and another officer after the third officer was acquitted at trial.