Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.
Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.
A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.
The chiefs say the appeals process leaves little margin for error. Yet police agencies sometimes sabotage their own attempts to shed troubled officers by making procedural mistakes. The result is that police chiefs have booted hundreds of officers they have deemed unfit to be in their ranks, only to be compelled to take them back and send them back to the streets with guns and badges.
Never miss a local story.
“It’s demoralizing, but not just to the chief,” said Charles H. Ramsey, former police commissioner in Philadelphia and chief in the District. Philadelphia and the District together have had to rehire 80 fired officers since 2006, three of them twice.
“It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks,” Ramsey said. “It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.”
The Post’s findings illustrate the obstacles local police agencies face in holding their own accountable at a critical moment for policing: President Trump’s administration has indicated that the federal government will curtail the strategy of federal intervention in departments confronted with allegations of systemic officer misconduct, even as controversial police shootings continue to undermine public confidence.
Nationwide, the reinstatement of fired officers has not been studied or comprehensively tracked. No national database logs terminations. Some firings receive local publicity, but many go unreported. Some states shield police personnel records - including firings - from public disclosure.
To investigate how often fired officers were returned to their jobs, The Post filed open records requests with the nation’s 55 largest municipal and county police forces. Thirty-seven departments complied with the request, disclosing that they had fired a combined 1,881 officers since 2006. Of those officers, 451 successfully appealed and won their jobs back.
The officers’ names and details were available in about half of the reinstatement cases: 151 of the officers had been fired for conduct unbecoming, and 88 had been terminated for dishonesty, according to a review of internal police documents, appeals records, court files and news reports.
At least 33 of the officers had been charged with crimes. Of these, 17 had been convicted, most of misdemeanors.
Eight officers were fired and rehired by their departments more than once.
“To overturn a police chief’s decision, except in cases of fact errors, is a disservice to the good order of the department,” said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, who in February was ordered to reinstate Officer Matthew Belver for a second time. “It also undermines a chief’s authority and ignores the chief’s understanding of what serves the best interest of the community and the department.”
In the District, arbitrators have ordered the city to rehire 39 officers since 2006, more than half of them because arbitrators concluded that the department missed deadlines to complete its internal investigations. One officer, convicted of assault after he was caught on video attacking a shoe store employee, was fired in 2015 and reinstated in 2016 after an arbitrator concluded that police had missed the deadline by seven days, arbitration records show.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said he disagreed with the arbitrators’ conclusions on when the clock started in those cases. “The public has to suffer because somebody violated an administrative rule,” Newsham said, adding that two-thirds of the officers reinstated because of missed investigative deadlines are no longer on the D.C. force.
Police unions argue that the right to appeal terminations through arbitration protects officers from arbitrary punishment or being second-guessed for their split-second decisions. Unions contend that police chiefs are prone to overreach, especially when there is public or political pressure to fire officers. In interviews, local and national union officials said some of the 451 reinstated officers should never have been fired in the first place.
“They’re held to a higher standard,” said James Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. “Their work is constantly scrutinized to a far higher degree. You very seldom see any phone-cam indictments of trash collectors or utility workers.”
Local police departments have often been criticized in recent years as not holding their officers accountable in fatal shootings, or in cases of brutality and corruption. To address the outcry from the public, the Department of Justice has employed its authority to investigate police departments for civil rights violations and to force reforms. Under President Barack Obama, Justice launched dozens of these investigations. The tactic was used, for example, in the aftermath of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
The Trump administration, however, has indicated that local officials should take the lead in policing their own departments. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during his Senate confirmation hearing this year.
Justice Department officials recently told The Post that the department will be more judicious in launching civil rights investigations.
“The Attorney General has explicitly said that ‘police officers who abuse their sacred trust are made to answer for their misconduct’ and that ‘the Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force.’ Any assertion to the contrary is flat out wrong and incredibly irresponsible,” said Ian D. Prior, a Department of Justice spokesman, in a written statement.
“What the Attorney General does not believe, however, is that the unconstitutional actions of one police officer should result in onerous and ineffective agreements between the Department of Justice and local police departments that prevent law enforcement from reducing violent crime and protecting the public,’ “ Prior said in the statement.
But in a speech to law enforcement officers last week, President Trump made comments that were widely interpreted as condoning police violence against “thugs” who are taken into custody. He told officers: “[P]lease don’t be too nice.”
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head. ... I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Trump said.
The White House later said the president had been joking.
The 37 departments that complied with the The Post’s request for records employ nearly 91,000 officers. The nearly 1,900 firings and the 451 rehirings show both how rare it is for departments to fire officers and how difficult it is to keep many of those from returning.
“It’s the frustrating part of my job,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who has been compelled to rehire four officers. “Most of the people we terminate [it] is clearly for good reason.”
In case after case, arbitrators have required police chiefs to take back officers the chiefs no longer want in their ranks.
In the District, police were told to rehire an officer who allegedly forged prosecutors’ signatures on court documents. In Texas, police had to reinstate an officer who was investigated for shooting up the car of his ex-girlfriend’s new man. In Philadelphia, police were compelled to reinstate an officer despite viral video of him striking a woman in the face. In Florida, police were ordered to reinstate an officer fired for fatally shooting an unarmed man.
“He is being paid to protect and serve us as citizens. But he takes my child’s life,” Sheila McNeil, the mother of the man who was killed by the officer in Florida, said at a public meeting in 2015. “I don’t understand how he can still be out here on the street. What fairness is that?”
The 37 departments that reported rehiring officers have one commonality: a police union contract that guarantees an appeal of disciplinary measures.
Police unionization began around the turn of the 20th century and spread rapidly in the 1960s and ’70s as states passed laws allowing collective bargaining by public workers. Today, most public employees, including police officers, have some form of collective-bargaining rights.
On most police forces, officers accused of wrongdoing are subject to internal affairs investigations to determine whether they violated department policies. If the officers are found to have breached department policies, police chiefs, superintendents or police boards can discipline them.
The multiyear contracts negotiated by police unions ensure that any discipline may be appealed - typically through arbitration, a process that brings in outside parties, often lawyers who specialize in labor law, to review the punishments and rule on the appeals.
That is how police Sgt. John Blumenthal returned to work in Oklahoma City.
On July 7, 2007, a man was lying handcuffed on the ground when Blumenthal ran up and kicked him in the head, according to several other officers. Blumenthal’s fellow officers reported the incident to internal affairs, and months later Blumenthal was fired and convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery.
Two years later, an arbitrator ordered the department to return Blumenthal to work. The reasons are unclear, because the records of the proceedings are not public. Today, Blumenthal, who did not respond to requests for comment, is a motorcycle officer.
“The message is huge,” said Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty, who said he loses about 80 percent of arbitration cases. “Officers know all they have to do is grieve it, arbitrate it and get their jobs back.”
One of the primary determinations an arbitrator makes is whether a department adhered to the rules when disciplining an officer.
“Were all of the correct investigative steps followed?” said Arnold Zack, a former president of the National Academy of Arbitrators who teaches labor law at Harvard University. “And was there a violation of any policy, and if so, what should the discipline be?”
Zack said that police chiefs often bemoan arbitration but that many cases fall apart because the departments fail to properly investigate the allegations. In one Florida case, a sheriff’s deputy who was fired after being accused by prosecutors of trafficking in pain pills was reinstated because the arbitrator found that the department did not adequately investigate the allegations before firing him.
Many of the arbitrators who handled the cases examined by The Post declined to be interviewed about their decisions, saying that they do not discuss their rulings.
In Chicago, union officials say the appeals process saved the job of an officer who was unfairly fired for failing to pay his parking tickets.
In October 2015, Bill Caro, at the time an officer with 28 years’ service in the Chicago Police Department, was terminated after he failed to pay nine parking tickets totaling $1,471. The department had warned him to pay the unpaid fines and had given him a deadline that he missed.
Caro eventually paid the tickets, but the department fired him anyway, records show.
He appealed, and in August 2016, a local judge who served as arbitrator in the case deemed the punishment “excessive” and ordered that Caro be returned to the force. His firing was reduced to a five-year suspension without pay, meaning he will not report to work until 2020. Caro could not be reached for comment.
For 239 officers in The Post’s study whose firings were made public, the majority had their terminations reduced to suspensions; at least 43 received no discipline at all. Most of the reinstated officers were awarded back pay for the time they were off the force, which can stretch to several years.
“The arbitrator is bound by the contract language just as much as the department,” Zack said. “If the contract says you have five days to investigate, and you take six days, then the firing has to be overturned.
“Does that mean some bad guys will get away with some things? Yes.”
Case study 1
Getaway driver: His cousin is a fugitive. He’s patrolling Boston.
In 2012, the Boston Police Department was forced to rehire Baltazar “Tate” DaRosa two years after stripping him of his police powers for what the department said was his role in a murder.
One year after he joined the department, DaRosa was asked to help investigate the 2003 killing of his cousin, who had been ambushed by a masked gunman as he sat in a car with his girlfriend. DaRosa, then 25, and his cousin had relatives in Cape Verde, a group of islands off the coast of West Africa. Frustrated at their inability to generate leads in the tightknit Cape Verdean community, detectives asked DaRosa to help.
“[The detective] sent me around asking family members and Cape Verdeans, but being a police officer, no one really told me” anything about the case, DaRosa later told investigators, according to internal affairs records and arbitration documents.
On a cold night in January 2005, DaRosa was off-duty at the Copa Grande Oasis, a nightclub outside Boston, records show.
DaRosa was supposed to have been working but had called in sick from his overnight police shift. He and Carlos DePina - the brother of DaRosa’s murdered cousin - were at the club together. Also at the club that night was a man named Jose Lopes, a known gang member who eventually would be identified as a suspect in the killing of DaRosa’s cousin.
The officer, his cousin DePina and two friends drank and danced until the club lights came on about 1:45 a.m., signaling closing time. DaRosa headed out to his car and popped in a CD as he waited for DePina to return.
But when DePina arrived at the car, he turned and walked back toward a group of people in the parking lot, according to DaRosa’s account.
About five minutes later, his cousin ran back to the car “out of breath,” saying he had heard gunshots, DaRosa said.
“ ‘Let’s get out of here’,” DePina said, according to DaRosa.
DaRosa, with DePina as a passenger, drove away, passing a police cruiser with flashing lights speeding toward the club.
Back in the parking lot, Lopes was dying from numerous gunshot wounds to the chest and back.
Several witnesses told police they saw people run to DaRosa’s car, records show. Another witness told police of seeing DaRosa driving from the scene with the shooting suspect in the car.
The department placed DaRosa on paid administrative leave and opened an internal investigation. But DaRosa refused to cooperate, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination, records show.
In July 2005, five months after the killing, DaRosa was arrested, charged with being an accessory to murder and placed on unpaid administrative leave by the department. His cousin, who is still at large, was charged with murder.
In September 2006, a jury acquitted DaRosa.
Once his trial was complete, DaRosa agreed to cooperate with internal affairs investigators, telling them he thought his cousin was mistaking some other sound when he said he heard shots. He also expressed regret for not stopping to help police. “I assumed that if something did happen that the cruisers were there for it,” he said.
Detectives later learned that DaRosa and his cousin DePina had been arrested at the club during a Cape Verdean-themed night three months before the shooting. Police said that DaRosa’s cousin had been drunk and causing a disturbance and that DaRosa had bloodshot eyes and reeked of alcohol. At the station, police eventually let the men go.
The internal investigation of DaRosa’s possible role the night of the shooting was completed in 2007, and in December 2010, the department fired DaRosa, saying both events at the nightclub had violated department policies - abuse of alcohol, neglect of duty, and a lack of truthfulness, records show.
DaRosa appealed the firing. His union attorney argued that there was no prove DaRosa used his influence to interfere with his cousin’s arrest months before the shooting or that DaRosa knew Lopes was at the club the night of the shooting or that he had suspected his cousin was the shooter.
In July 2012, after a three-day, closed-door hearing at City Hall, arbitrator Richard G. Boulanger, a Boston-area lawyer, sided with the union. He concluded that DaRosa “was not poised as a get-away driver or that he had knowledge that Carlos was involved in Jose’s shooting.”
Nearly two years after his firing, and seven years after the shooting, DaRosa was reinstated and awarded $50,111 in lost pay and overtime, records show.
DaRosa, a union attorney, and former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, who led the department at the time of the shooting, did not respond to requests for comment.
“I feel very happy for Baltazar,” Bryan Decker, a lawyer who handled the case for the police union on DaRosa’s behalf, told a local reporter at the time. “He’s an upstanding member of the community, and I think that he is just excited to get back to work helping the people of Boston.”
Today, DePina is a fugitive, believed to have fled the country. His cousin DaRosa is a bike patrol officer.
Case study 2
The drive-by shooting: A truck was shot up, and a limo was pulled over.
Early New Year’s Day, 2007, Fort Worth police officer Jesus “Jesse” Banda Jr. sat in his car outside an all-night party where his ex-girlfriend was with another man. Banda called a dispatcher and ran a check of the license plate of the truck the man was driving to determine his address. Days later, the truck was found blasted with nearly a dozen rounds from a shotgun.
Banda, who had seven years’ service at the time, told investigators he knew nothing about the damage to the truck, according to internal affairs and arbitration documents. In the end, police could not tie Banda to the shooting, but the department concluded that he had lied about why he had called in the license plate.
Then-Police Chief Ralph Mendoza put the officer on restricted duty, ultimately suspending him indefinitely - the same as firing him - in June 2007 for being untruthful and violating the department’s ethical standards. Banda was told not to represent himself as a police officer while internal affairs investigated the matter.
During that time, Banda was a passenger in a limousine pulled over by a Fort Worth officer. The officer said he saw the vehicle and, as he watched, the driver passed a Bud Light to passengers in the back. The officer said that when he asked Banda to get out of the vehicle, Banda handed the officer his police credentials.
The department opened a second internal affairs investigation.
An arbitrator ruled in August 2008 on Banda’s firing over the check of the license plate. He said Banda had clearly used department resources to run the license tags “for personal reasons” - but also said that firing him was too harsh, compared with punishments given to other officers. The arbitrator ordered him reinstated, reduced his firing to a 90-day suspension and awarded nearly a year of back pay, records show.
Banda was back on the force only one month when he was fired a second time, this time by new Police Chief Patricia Kneblick for misrepresenting himself as an officer during the traffic stop.
Again, Banda appealed.
This time, Banda’s union attorney argued that there was no proof that Banda had showed his work ID during the traffic stop and that the department’s investigation had been shoddy and incomplete. Bill Detwiler, who was the hearing examiner, agreed: “The hearing examiner finds the investigative process used in this case to be fatally flawed.”
Detectives had followed up with just three of eight potential witnesses and had done “little or nothing to source such information” including tracing the license plate of the limo and interviewing the driver, Detwiler said in his ruling. And, Detwiler noted, the detective investigating possible criminal charges lacked formal training and experience.
Seven months after Banda’s second firing, in April 2009, Detwiler reinstated the officer with partial back pay.
Banda, through the police department, declined to comment.
“The hearing examiner took issue with the same problems that we took issue with,” Terry Daffron Hickey, Banda’s attorney, told a local TV station at the time. “I think when you’re in a situation where you’re investigating a police officer and it’s a serious accusation and their job is on the line, there’s a duty out there to do a thorough, fair and complete investigation.”
In 2015, Banda, 45, was promoted to detective, records show. Current Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald declined to comment.
Case study 3
The eight-year firing: The officer was convicted of sexually abusing a young woman.
In the District, the Metropolitan Police Department fired officer Michael Blaise Sugg-Edwards after he was convicted of misdemeanor sex abuse over an incident with a teenager in his police car.
Eight years later, the department is still fighting to keep the 35-year-old off the force after the agency in 2015 was ordered to rehire him.
Sugg-Edwards, who was born and raised in the District, joined the department in 2005. He was nominated to be rookie officer of the year and to receive an achievement medal for stopping an armed rape.
On Nov. 16, 2007, Sugg-Edwards was on patrol when he saw a 19-year-old woman dressed in full white walking alone near Love, a now-closed warehouse nightclub off New York Avenue in Northeast, court records show.
The woman was there to celebrate her 19th birthday with friends but had to go back to a friend’s car because she needed her identification to enter the club.
Sugg-Edwards pulled up in his marked patrol car. He allegedly told the woman that a club supervisor had sent him to escort her safely to her friend’s car and invited her to get into the patrol car, according to court records.
She said that once she was in his vehicle, he drove to a gas station and parked between two tractor trailers. Sugg-Edwards asked her, “What are you trying to do to get into the club?” she told police, adding that he began touching her thigh, genitals and breasts.
She said she pushed him away, got out of the car and reported the sexual assault to two off-duty officers at the nightclub. She was seen on video from outside the club getting out of the squad car, and officers reported that she was crying when she approached them.
Sugg-Edwards was the only uniformed officer in the area who fit the description that she gave to police. A police official called Sugg-Edwards and asked whether he had “picked up a female near the Club ‘Love’?” according to an affidavit for his arrest. “ ‘Yes, I did,’ “ he said.
Sugg-Edwards said he drove her to a gas station to use the bathroom but denied assaulting her, according to court records.
“The official reminded the defendant that he had been warned in the past about talking to female patrons near the night club,” the affidavit said.
The department put Sugg-Edwards on unpaid leave, and records show that he began working at a toy store in Maryland.
In June 2008, Sugg-Edwards was convicted at a bench trial of misdemeanor sexual abuse. He was sentenced to a 100-day suspended sentence, one year supervised probation and $1,000 in court fees.
Then-D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier recommended to the trial board - a group of three officers - that Sugg-Edwards be fired.
The trial board, however, concluded that firing Sugg-Edwards was too harsh a penalty and recommended a reprimand. Fellow officers testified that Sugg-Edwards had an otherwise clean record, a reputation as a “nice guy” and that the sexual assault was “totally out of Officer Sugg-Edwards’ character,” records show.
On Sept. 14, 2009, the department’s human resources director decided to fire Sugg-Edwards anyway, saying that the trial board “ignored evidence proving the grievant was guilty” of the misconduct.
The police union filed an appeal arguing that the D.C. code and municipal regulations barred the department from imposing discipline harsher than what the trial board recommends.
That appeal was not decided until January 2015, more than five years later. Attorneys for the union and the police department blamed the delay on a backlog of arbitration cases.
Arbitrator Sean J. Rogers ruled that although there was enough evidence to prove Sugg-Edwards’s misconduct, the union’s contention was correct. Rogers ordered Sugg-Edwards reinstated with back pay and benefits.
City officials tried again to keep him off the force: They appealed the arbitrator’s ruling to the Public Employee Relations Board, which resolves disputes between the District and labor organizations. The department argued that it had the authority to fire the officer, even if the trial board disagreed.
The review board upheld the arbitrator’s original ruling in April 2015.
The police department then appealed the review board’s decision in court. The case is pending.
For now, Sugg-Edwards remains off the force, and the city has yet to pay him as ordered by the arbitrator. His annual salary was $58,759 when he left the department eight years ago.
Sugg-Edwards did not respond to calls and emails from The Washington Post seeking comment.
Police union attorney Marc L. Wilhite said that Sugg-Edwards wants to go back to policing and that the department needs to “follow the law” and reinstate him.
Police officials, citing union rules and local privacy laws, declined to discuss the case. Police Chief Peter Newsham said that in general he is frustrated that the department has been compelled to reinstate officers with histories of misconduct. Since 2006, the department has had to rehire at least 39 officers, records show.
“Police officers go into people’s homes . . . and they have the authority to take people’s freedom,” Newsham told The Post. “And you’re going to return somebody into that role, somebody who has that responsibility and authority, who’s been involved in extreme misconduct? I don’t think anybody is comfortable with that.”
Case study 4
A challenge to fight: An officer is fired twice and put back on the force twice.
On Dec. 3, 2015, an official with the criminal division of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office in Texas was concerned about the dashboard-camera video of a recent arrest by a San Antonio police officer.
“Can you take a look at this video?” the official asked in an email to the city attorney’s office. “The officer has the suspect handcuffed, in custody and challenges him to fight while unhandcuffing him.”
Soon, the police department’s internal affairs unit launched an investigation into the officer involved: Matthew Belver, then 43 and with nine years’ service in the department. Belver also worked part-time as a security guard at a local church. The video was eventually made public under pressure from the local media.
The video depicted the August 2015 arrest of then-48-year-old Eloy Leal, who told internal affairs investigators that he had gone outside to investigate after someone had been injured during a shooting in his neighborhood. Leal said that he saw bullet casings on the street near the scene and that he pointed them out to Belver, who was one of the responding officers, according to internal affairs and arbitration documents.
Then, Leal said, he criticized Belver for missing the casings and announced that he was walking home to get a camera to document the evidence. As Leal began walking away, Belver arrested him, records show.
The next 17 minutes were captured on the camera mounted on Belver’s dashboard. Belver was recorded telling Leal, who was handcuffed in the back seat of the squad car, that he could go free if he was willing to fight.
“If you beat my ass, don’t f****** kill me,” Leal pleaded as Belver uncuffed him.
“Naw, as soon as they come off, I’m going to beat your ass,” Belver responded.
The officer ordered Leal to get out of the squad car and run or fight, but Leal refused.
Belver recuffed Leal, who asked what he was being charged with.
“I’ll think of something,” Belver responded, driving away with Leal in the back seat. Leal was charged with interfering with the duties of a public official, a charge that prosecutors later dropped. Leal could not be reached for comment.
The incident was not the first time that Belver had been accused of misconduct by people he arrested. The department had fired Belver in 2010 after two other allegations that led to separate investigations by internal affairs.
In the first incident, Belver was accused of unlawfully entering a home and roughing up two men who were accused of threatening neighbors with a gun.
In the second, two weeks later, Belver arrested Carlos Flores, a San Antonio mechanic, on suspicion of drunken driving. Then, according to a complaint from Flores, Belver challenged him to a fight.
Belver “told me that if I could kick his ass, he would let me go,” Flores said in his complaint. By the time Flores reached the police detention center, he had a bruised left eye, injuries to his back and neck, and a large bruise across his face, an internal affairs investigation would later determine. Flores, who could not be reached for comment, was fined for driving while intoxicated, and a separate charge of assault on a public servant was dropped.
But Belver and his union attorneys won the officer’s job back after his 2010 firing, negotiating a “last chance agreement” that allowed Belver to return to work as long as he had no further misconduct and agreed that he would not patrol alone.
After the 2015 video surfaced of Belver challenging Leal to a fight, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus fired Belver again - writing on Feb. 12, 2016, that the officer had violated several department policies as well as his last-chance agreement.
Once again, Belver appealed his firing.
During the two-day hearing last September, Belver’s attorney argued that because the last-chance agreement was limited to two years, it had expired eight months before the Leal encounter. The attorney also noted that the union contract prohibited the department from considering discipline for matters older than 180 days, which would exclude the prior two allegations of assault made against Belver.
Arbitrator Lynne M. Gomez, a labor lawyer, agreed with the union and said that the union contract and wording of the last-chance agreement meant the department had to treat the Leal incident as a first offense. In the revised circumstances, a firing was too harsh, she ruled.
“While the Chief testified that he thinks the Grievant is a ‘disaster waiting to happen’ . . . just cause generally requires that discipline be applied progressively to achieve a corrective goal,” Gomez said in her ruling.
Gomez in February issued Belver a 45-day suspension and ordered that he be returned to work with back pay, which city officials said will be $66,662.
Reached by email, Belver declined to be interviewed, referring questions to the head of the police union, who he said would be “familiar with both this incident and the arbitration process that followed.”
Mike Helle of the San Antonio Police Officers Association said in an interview with The Washington Post that Belver was in the wrong because he had placed himself, his fellow officers and the public at risk. But Helle, the president of the officers association, said he supports the arbitrator’s decision because not every infraction merits termination.
“Arbitration creates an environment in which the final say-so of whether the termination is justifiable or not is in the hands of a third party,” Helle said. “It creates a bit of fairness. It takes the emotion out of the argument.”
McManus, the police chief, declined to be interviewed about the Belver case or the other 29 officers whom the San Antonio Police Department has been compelled to rehire since 2006.
“I’m sure many police chiefs across the country share the same frustrations that I do when an arbitrator overturns a termination,” McManus said in a statement.
Case study 5
Fatal force: An officer is fired twice and put back on the force twice.
On Feb. 10, 2011, in Miami, police detective Reynaldo Goyos was working with a dozen undercover officers taking part in a sting at a local strip club known to be frequented by gang members.
Shortly after 11 p.m., one of the undercover officers spotted what she described as two intoxicated men being ejected from the club. Travis McNeil and his cousin Kareem Williams stumbled across the parking lot and climbed into a burgundy Kia Sorrento. As they drove off, a half-dozen officers, including Goyos, followed them, worried that the men would come back and cause a disturbance, according to an arbitrator’s account that was based on witness statements and internal police files.
“We get three or four blocks from the club, and all of a sudden police was surrounding us,” Williams told The Washington Post.
Goyos drew his gun and got out of the passenger seat of an unmarked Chevrolet Suburban. “Show me your hands!” he yelled.
“I looked at the driver,” Goyos would later tell police internal affairs investigators. “He was staring right at me. He looked like he wasn’t paying attention, like he’s very incoherent. [He] was disobeying my . . . commands.”
Goyos told internal affairs that as he approached the driver’s side door he could see that both men had their hands in their laps. But then McNeil, in the driver’s seat, reached toward his waistband and then toward the floorboard of the vehicle, according to the officer.
Standing about two feet from the Kia’s open driver’s side window, Goyos fired his weapon three times - striking McNeil in the chest and Williams in the wrist and hip. McNeil was dead at the scene.
On the driver’s side floorboard, investigators found two cellphones. There were no weapons in the vehicle.
None of the five other officers surrounding the car, who also had drawn their weapons, had fired. They would all later tell internal affairs investigators that Goyos was the only officer with a clear view into the car. The shooting quickly drew local media scrutiny.
The department completed its internal investigation in November 2012. The next month, the city’s Firearms Review Board - made up of three assistant chiefs, a police major, and a police attorney - concluded that the shooting was not justified. The board said that neither Goyos nor anyone else had been in imminent danger and questioned whether the physical evidence supported Goyos’s version of events.
Police officials concluded that the location of McNeil’s fatal wound was inconsistent with Goyos’s assertion that he saw a black object in McNeil’s hand.
In January 2013, then-Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa fired Goyos, who had been with the department since 2005, arguing that he should have sought cover instead of approaching the vehicle.
Goyos appealed, prompting a four-day arbitration hearing in late 2013. Goyos and his union attorney argued that Goyos did not violate the department’s use-of-force policy and reasserted Goyos’s claim that he had seen a black object in McNeil’s hand.
“There was no misconduct on the part of officer Goyos,” said Eugene Gibbons, Goyos’s attorney, who has defended many police officers accused of wrongdoing. “He was simply doing his job to the best of his ability that evening.”
In a text message to The Post, Goyos declined to be interviewed and added, “It was all political.”
In August 2014, arbitrator Martin Soll, a labor lawyer, sided with Goyos’s legal team, writing that the physical evidence supported Goyos’s account and that there was no evidence that his actions had violated department policy.
“Just or proper cause did not exist to discharge or otherwise discipline City of Miami Detective Reynaldo Goyos,” Soll wrote.
Soll ordered that Goyos be reinstated and awarded him $74,400 in back pay, an outcome that made local headlines.
“It’s been frustrating, but there is no other option,” said current Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes. “I have no other choice but to have a conversation with the person that’s being brought back and tell them that I expect nothing but excellent work from now on.”
In 2015, the city settled a federal civil rights suit with McNeil’s family, agreeing to pay them nearly $1 million.
Case study 6
Missed deadline: D.C. police took six days too long to fire an officer.
The nine-year effort to fire D.C. police officer Daxzaneous Banks began in March 2008 when a court employee asked why the undercover officer had signed in as having attended a criminal trial that had been rescheduled. Banks had been paid for being available to testify, although the trial had not occurred.
Internal affairs began to investigate and found that on at least 10 occasions, he had allegedly forged the signatures of several prosecutors on his time sheets, records show.
“You affixed these signatures knowing them to be improper and fraudulent,” according to an account of the case filed in court by the D.C. Attorney General’s Office.
Banks’s conduct forced prosecutors to abandon charges against a suspected cocaine dealer because the officer was the sole witness to the alleged drug transaction, according to the records. The accusations of forgery, prosecutors told internal affairs, raised “serious veracity issues” about his potential testimony in criminal cases, according to their account.
Police investigators concluded that Banks had violated four policies: being involved in the commission of an act that would constitute a crime; conduct unbecoming an officer; inefficiency; and fraud.
On Sept. 9, 2008, then-Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier recommended to the trial board, a three-member panel that oversees officer discipline, that Banks be fired. After a two-day hearing in March 2009, the board found Banks guilty of violating three of the four policies, and in June 2009, he was fired.
Shortly thereafter, the union appealed Banks’s firing, arguing that the department had missed its deadline to discipline the officer.
Marc L. Wilhite, the union attorney who represents Banks, said the officer denies forging the signatures. Banks “expressed repeatedly he believed he had a case scheduled that day,” according to the District’s summary of the case.
In the appeal, the union argued that the citybegan its investigation in April 2008 and was required by law to discipline Banks within 90 business days of starting the investigation. Wilhite said Lanier’s September 2008 recommendation to fire Banks was made at the end of 96 days - six dayspast the 90-day deadline set by District code.
The department argued that its investigation did not truly begin until May 2008 and that it had met the 90-day deadline.
Because of a backlog of union arbitration cases, Banks’s appeal languished until 2016, according to Wilhite. He said Banks, meanwhile, worked as a lifeguard and at other jobs.
Finally, in September of last year, arbitrator Homer C. La Rue sided with Banks.
“It is clear that the department failed to meet its obligation to bring charges against Ofc. Banks within 90 days of the incident,” wrote La Rue, a local labor attorney.
La Rue ordered that Banks - after seven years off the force - be reinstated with full back pay and lost benefits, and that his personnel record be expunged of the termination. At the time of his firing, Banks was earning $68,023 annually.
The District appealed the decision to the Public Employee Relations Board, which reviews disputes between the District and unions, but the reinstatement was upheld.
In January, the D.C. Attorney General’s Office appealed the case in D.C. Superior Court, arguing that any harm caused to Banks by missing the deadline is outweighed by the police department’s interest. The appeal is pending. To date, the Metropolitan Police Department has not returned Banks to active status.
Wilhite said that Banks, the son of a District police officer, wants his job back and has been under pressure from his family to return to policing.
Banks is one of 26 officers nationwide ordered reinstated since 2006 because arbitrators ruled that police officials had missed deadlines as outlined in local laws or union contracts. Of those, 23 were from The District. Six of those officers were ordered reinstated in the past two years, records show.
The deadline issue has troubled the department for decades, and has been documented in stories in The Washington Post and in the Washington City Paper.
Many departments have time limits under union contracts or local laws to complete internal investigations to prevent cases from dragging on. The District’s deadlines are among the shortest: A survey last year of 81 major police departments found that at least 21 departments imposed deadlines, ranging from 30 days to three years, according to Campaign Zero, a police accountability group.
For many years, the District code imposed a 45-day deadline for a city employee accused of wrongdoing to be investigated and discipline recommended, said Mark Viehmeyer, an attorney for the police department and acting director of its labor relations branch.
The City Council repealed the rule in 1998, calling the deadline arbitrary. In 2004, the City Council took the issue up again because the police and fire unions were complaining that officials were taking too long to pursue disciplinary cases, Viehmeyer said. The council then imposed a 90-day deadline for the police and fire departments, he said.
Separately, he said, the police union contract since the early 1980shas imposed a second deadline: Police officials have 55 days to fire an officer once they decide to do so.
District officials said in interviews that they are meeting the deadlines and that cases are overturned because arbitrators misinterpret when the clock begins.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said the department in the past two years has taken steps to eliminate the ambiguity about when the internal affairs investigation begins so that authorities can meet arbitrators’ interpretation of the 90-day deadline.
“That was our main point of contention with the arbitrators,” Newsham said. “They were continually changing when the 90-day clock started ticking.”
Viehmeyer said that in many of the cases in which the department was ordered to rehire officers, the underlying misconduct was never in dispute.
“There are a lot of cases where the arbitrator’s analysis I think is sort of belied by some of the facts in the case,” he said.
Wilhite, who has represented many of the officers who were reinstated, said the rules are clear.
“There are lots of other angles that MPD has been using to try and avoid the reality, which is once the 90 days has been violated, that case must be dismissed,” Wilhite said
Case study 7
No due process: A department fails to investigate an officer’s arrest.
Broward Sheriff’s Sgt. John Goodbread was in his doctor’s office in Florida for a routine physical sometime in 2003 or 2004 when he felt the pain in his lower back.
“He had me do one of these exercises as part of the physical, bend over type of thing, touch your toes, see what your range of motion,” Goodbread would later tell police. “As I was bending over, I stopped because the lower back just seized up.”
The doctor issued Goodbread a prescription for hydrocodone. It was the first of multiple pain-medication prescriptions from several doctors that would ultimately result in criminal charges against Goodbread.
In March 2011, a detective in Palm Beach County got a tip suggesting that Goodbread and his wife “may be involved in doctor shopping” - a practice in which someone seeks the same or similar prescriptions from multiple doctors, according to a summary of the case later included in the arbitrator’s ruling.
Criminal investigators began looking into the allegations that Goodbread and his wife had obtained prescriptions for the pain medications from four doctors’ offices, according to court records.
On April 8, 2011, Goodbread and his wife were arrested and eventually charged in state court with trafficking Oxycodone and withholding information from a practitioner, both felonies. The couple’s arrest made local headlines, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office suspended Goodbread without pay.
“I was completely caught off guard,” Goodbread, a former narcotics officer who has consistently maintained his innocence, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Somebody else had used my name to get those ‘scripts. I had nothing to do with anything.”
In April 2012, his then-wife, Heather Goodbread, pleaded guilty to withholding information from a practitioner and was put on probation under an agreement that withheld an adjudication of guilt. She would later testify during her husband’s arbitration hearing that she was the one who had called in prescriptions in her husband’s name and that he had not been aware of her scheme. She eventually completed her probation, court records show. Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
In January 2013, Goodbread pleaded no contest to one count of withholding information from a practitioner under an agreement that deferred criminal prosecution. He was ordered into a pretrial intervention program, which he completed in a matter of months, and the case was dismissed.
The Broward Sheriff’s office fired him.
The local police union appealed. The union argued that the department had not conducted a full internal affairs investigation but instead had relied on evidence gathered during the criminal probe. Therefore, the union argued, Goodbread’s firing had been based on “hearsay.”
“His wife had admitted to misrepresenting herself to get the medication,” said Michael Braverman, the attorney who represented Goodbread. “But the department didn’t give [Goodbread] even the most minimal amount of due process.”
In a Dec. 20, 2013, ruling, arbitrator Robert Hoffman sided with the union. He concluded that there had not been an adequate internal investigation by police and that Goodbread had been denied due process.
Hoffman acknowledged that Goodbread’s participation in a diversion program could be considered conduct unbecoming an officer, but the arbitrator questioned whether it merited his firing, given the inadequate internal affairs probe.
“Lesser discipline could result if the record did not contain serious due process concerns,” he wrote.
Hoffman ordered that Goodbread be reinstated in his job and receive back pay.
In a video posted on Facebook, Goodbread thanked the police union for helping him get his job back.
Broward Sheriff’s Col. Jack Dale, who currently oversees officer discipline, said the department had handled the case poorly, because firing Goodbread while criminal charges were pending had impeded its ability to investigate fully.
“If a criminal case is ongoing, your best move is to wait until the criminal case is done before you terminate them,” Dale said.
Goodbread told The Post that without arbitration, he would still be out of a job for something he did not do.
“Have I seen it where the arbitration process may not work perfectly? Sure,” Goodbread conceded. “But it’s there to protect the rank and file. . . . Basically, it’s our union looking out for us to make sure that we don’t [get] wrongly terminated.”
Case study 8
A rush to judgment: An officer is fired quickly after a punch goes viral.
In Philadelphia, Aida Guzman cradled a bottle of beer in one hand and clutched a can of Silly String in the other as she bounced along with the music playing after the city’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sept. 30, 2012.
A few feet away, Lt. Jonathan Josey of the Philadelphia Police Department’s highway patrol unit was one of more than a dozen officers dealing with a vehicle doing doughnut turns nearby.
In the next few seconds, what transpired between Josey and Guzman would become a criminal matter. One thing is undisputed: Josey’s hand connected with Guzman’s face.
A bystander captured the encounter on video. Guzman was walking from the street toward the sidewalk, and then Josey approached. The officer swung with an open hand - striking Guzman in the face and knocking her to the ground. Guzman, bleeding from the mouth, was arrested and cited for disorderly conduct.
Josey would later tell investigators that he felt himself get hit with liquid and Silly String, prompting him to turn around, see Guzman and approach her.
The video of Josey’s smacking Guzman quickly went viral, and then-Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey acted quickly. He reviewed the video and the use-of-force report filled out by Josey, in which the officer said he had been trying to knock the beer out of Guzman’s hand and accidentally hit her in the face, according to a summary of the case later compiled by the city.
Four days later, on Oct. 4, Ramsey suspended Josey, concluding that he had falsified his use-of-force report by claiming he had personally seen Guzman throw beer on him and several other officers. On Nov. 1, 2012, Ramsey fired Josey for conduct unbecoming an officer and for use of excessive force.
Prosecutors charged Josey with simple assault, a second-degree misdemeanor.
The charges and Josey’s firing outraged the police union and fellow officers, who packed the courtroom during the 2013 trial, according to news reports at the time. The union argued in the local news media that department leadership and prosecutors were bending to political pressure.
Other officers present that day told the judge that they heard Josey instruct Guzman to drop her beer. Josey testified at trial that he was trying to swat the beer bottle from Guzman’s hand and that at that very moment Guzman slipped on a can on the ground, according to local coverage of the trial. As she stumbled, the officer said, the swat intended for her beer bottle instead struck her face.
“The video looks disturbing but, obviously, it’s not what it appears to be,” Josey said in court. “I was kind of shocked when I saw her go to the ground. I didn’t expect to come into contact with her face.”
Judge Patrick F. Dugan ultimately concluded that Josey was not guilty.
“It was a complete joke,” Guzman attorney Enrique Latoison said in an interview with The Washington Post. “A mockery of a trial.”
Josey then appealed his firing. Arbitrator David J. Reilly held a two-day hearing in June 2013 and concluded that Josey should not have been fired.
His decision letter is not subject to public records laws, but The Post obtained a 2014 report on arbitration from the city’s Police Advisory Commission that summarized Reilly’s rationale.
According to the report, Reilly wrote that after viewing the video frame by frame, he believed Josey’s account and concluded that his use of force was reasonable. Reilly also decided that although Josey incorrectly claimed he had seen Guzman throw beer on him, that was insufficient grounds to fire him.
Reilly ordered that Josey be rehired and that all references to his firing be removed from his personnel file.
Guzman, a mother of three, sued over the incident. In May 2013, the city paid her a $75,000 settlement. Latoison said he remains outraged at Josey’s acquittal and reinstatement.
“If you accidentally hit somebody, if you accidentally step on your puppy or accidentally swat your child, everybody, universally has the same reaction, ‘Oh, I’m sorry!’ “ Latoison said. “His immediate reaction was to rough her up, put her in handcuffs, throw her in a police van and charge her with disorderly conduct.”
Josey and the union that represents Philadelphia officers did not respond to multiple requests for comment. When Josey was reinstated, his criminal defense attorney told local reporters that “Jon didn’t do anything wrong that day other than do his job.”
“I’ve said before and I’ll say again,” Fortunato Perri, the attorney, added in a recent interview with The Post. “The people of Philadelphia are very fortunate to have someone like Jon Josey working for the Philadelphia PD.”
Video embed coding:
How an officer fired for killing an unarmed man got his job back.
Sgt. John Goodbread, Broward County, Florida:
Lt. Jonathan Josey of the Philadelphia Police Department’s highway patrol unit
A San Antonio police officer offered to let a handcuffed man go, but there was one catch
This article was produced in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Students Teaganne Finn, Josephine Peterson, Matt Hanan, Taylor Hartz, Jordan Houston and Shaun Courtney contributed reporting to this article.
Dalton Bennett and Alice Crites also contributed to this report.