Arbitrator Found That Officer David Williams Did Not Use Excessive Force During Arrest
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) has ruled in favor of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (“BPPA”) and against the City of Boston in a major case that tested the limits of the non-delegable management rights doctrine. In City of Boston v. BPPA, which was decided by a unanimous court on July 12, 2017 (Hines, J. writing the opinion), the SJC affirmed a labor arbitrator’s award ordering the City to reinstate wrongly discharged Boston Police Officer David Williams. The City appealed to the SJC after a Superior Court judge affirmed the arbitrator’s award. Attorney Alan H. Shapiro, a partner with Sandulli Grace, P.C., represented the BPPA in the arbitration and court proceedings with the assistance of Sandulli Grace attorney John M. Becker.
The case began in the early morning hours of March 16, 2009 when Officer Williams and another Boston Police Officer reported to the North End for a traffic dispute. When a St. Patrick’s Day reveler became unruly and refused to leave the street, the other officer attempted to arrest him, but the man began to fight back and resist. Officer Williams came to the assistance of his fellow officer and subdued the unruly gentleman while the man’s two friends attempted to interfere. An initial perfunctory investigation by the Boston Police Department (“BPD”) into the incident did not reach any conclusions, but after the man filed a lawsuit, the BPD resumed investigating, placed Officer Williams on administrative leave in 2011 and eventually concluded that he had used excessive force during the arrest and had been untruthful about his actions. The BPD discharged Officer Williams in January 2012, almost three years after the incident.
The BPPA grieved the discharge under the collective bargaining agreement with the City, in which the parties have agreed that the BPD must have just cause to discharge a police officer and that the ultimate decision on whether the BPD has just cause is for a neutral arbitrator selected by mutual agreement of the City and BPPA. The BPPA argued that Officer Williams used appropriate force under the circumstances and was truthful in reporting his actions. After three days of hearing, the arbitrator rejected the City’s position that Officer Williams had used excessive force, finding instead that Williams had used appropriate force during the arrest and was truthful about his actions during the investigation. The arbitrator also found that the investigation was excessively lengthy and included arbitrary delays. He ordered the City to reinstate Officer Williams with full back pay and benefits, including back detail and overtime pay for the excessively long administrative leave.
The City appealed the arbitrator’s decision to Superior Court and then, after losing there, to the Supreme Judicial Court. The City argued that the non-delegable management rights doctrine, as embodied in the law known as the Commissioner’s Statute, prohibited arbitrators from contradicting the Boston Police Commissioner’s determination that an officer had used excessive force. In effect, the City argued that discipline and discharge were not subject to collective bargaining and that an arbitrator could not decide whether the City had just cause to discharge Officer Williams. The SJC was not willing to extend the management rights doctrine into the “core matters of discipline and discharge”, standards for which have always been subject to collective bargaining.
In reaching its conclusion, the SJC relied in part on a 1998 amendment to G.L. c. 150E, § 7(d), the law that enumerates which laws and regulations are superseded by collective bargaining agreements in the event of a conflict. The 1998 amendment, which was sponsored and supported by the BPPA, with the assistance of attorneys from Sandulli Grace, added the regulations of police commissioners to the list. The SJC found that this amendment gave arbitrators the right to interpret regulations promulgated by the Boston Police Commissioner pursuant to the Commissioner’s Statute and further found that where the arbitrator’s interpretation conflicted with the Commissioner’s, the arbitrator’s must prevail.
The SJC also took the opportunity to criticize the BPD for its handling of the investigation, noting that both the accused police officer and the public were disserved by the mishandling of the case and the lengthy delays in the investigation.
Sandulli Grace congratulates Officer Williams and his family on this victory and also the BPPA and its President, Pat Rose, who have supported Officer Williams throughout this long ordeal.