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City of Pittsfield v. Local 447 International Brotherhood of Police Officers

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Berkshire

October 3, 2018

CITY OF PITTSFIELD
v.
LOCAL 447 INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF POLICE OFFICERS.

          Heard: May 7, 2018.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on May 11, 2017. The case was heard by Daniel A. Ford, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Richard M. Dohoney for the plaintiff.

          Timothy M. Burke (Jared S. Burke also present) for the defendant.

          Eric R. Atstupenas, for Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Inc., amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, & Cypher, JJ.

          CYPHER, J.

         Dale Eason was terminated from his position as a police officer in the Pittsfield police department on grounds of conduct unbecoming a police officer, untruthfulness, and falsifying records. His union, Local 447 International Brotherhood of Police Officers (union), filed a grievance, pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the union and the city of Pittsfield (city). The union and city submitted Eason's termination to arbitration with two agreed-upon issues: (1) "Was there just cause to terminate the employment of Dale Eason?"; and (2) "If not, what shall the remedy be?" The arbitrator found that there was not just cause for termination and reinstated Eason with a three-day suspension.

         The city commenced an action pursuant to G. L. c. 150C, § 11, in the Superior Court to vacate the arbitrator's award, arguing that it is contrary to public policy. A Superior Court judge confirmed the arbitration award, and the city appealed. We thereafter granted the city's application for direct appellate review. We conclude that the arbitrator's award of reinstatement does not violate public policy in the circumstances of this case, where the arbitrator found that the officer's statements were "intentionally misleading" but not "intentionally false" and where the statements did not lead to a wrongful arrest or prosecution, or result in any deprivation of liberty or denial of civil rights.

         Background.

         We recite the facts as found by the arbitrator. The case arose from a February, 2016, incident in which Eason responded to a reported larceny at a supermarket. Eason arrested a woman, identified by supermarket security, and placed her in the back of his police cruiser. In his arrest report, Eason said the suspect "began thrashing her body around in the back seat .... For her safety, I attempted to remove the [suspect] from my vehicle and place her onto the ground to control her body." He additionally noted, "Also, [supermarket] [s]ecurity wanted to get a photo as part of their process."

         The arbitrator explained that "[w]hen questioned during the investigation, [Eason] acknowledged that he removed the [suspect] from the back seat of his police cruiser to enable the supermarket security to photograph her, pursuant to a practice of photographing larceny suspects, which officers know about and facilitate." The city terminated Eason for "conduct unbecoming a police officer, untruthfulness, and falsifying records, based on the reason [he] reported for removal of the [suspect], expressed [as]: 'for her safety.'" The city also asserted that there was no evidence that the suspect was thrashing in the cruiser. Eason "acknowledge[d] that he removed the [suspect] to enable the store to photograph her, according to practice" and "also assert[ed] that the [suspect] had been out of control in the back of the car before she was removed, but not immediately prior to her removal. [He] denie[d] that he lied, implicitly, because she was thrashing and they needed to photograph her, fairly simultaneously."

         The arbitrator held that Eason's misconduct did not amount to just cause for termination, "a capital offense in the employment context." The arbitrator found that "the three words at issue were untrue, intentionally misleading, and cause for discipline, but less than intentionally false" (emphasis in original), [1] He also found that there was "persuasive evidence that the [suspect] acted up in the back before she was removed." The arbitrator held that the city failed to "persuade [him] that ...


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