“Lies” or “Misstatements” By Law Enforcement Officers Do Not Require Termination
Many police chiefs and public employers have misinterpreted the DiSciullo decision (perhaps willfully) to claim that they must fire law enforcement officers who make any lie or misstatement. A recent decision shows that once again, public employers have it wrong.
In Sheriff of Suffolk County v. Jail Officers & Employees of Suffolk County, 03-P-1154 (Feb. 1, 2007), the Appeals Court affirmed its previous decision that resulted in the reinstatement of a corrections officer. The Suffolk County Sheriff terminated a corrections officer after it found that he observed a scuffle between fellow officers and a pretrial detainee, failed to report these observations and then lied about the matter to investigators. On appeal, the arbitrator found that punishment of the corrections officer warranted no more than a six-month suspension. The arbitrator specifically found that the corrections officer failed to "file some form of a report of an unusual and significant event (i.e., the assault) and that he did not cooperate with the investigation and filed incomplete, misleading or false reports."
The Sheriff appealed. The Appeals Court expressly rejected the suggestion that the arbitrator’s award was illegal under DiSciullo.
In the Boston Police case, DiSciullo was the original perpetrator of bad acts, who then went on to "shroud his own misconduct in an extended web of lies and perjured testimony." In contrast, Upton’s conduct was the result of trying to cover up the misdeeds of his fellow correction officers, and not the result of trying to cover up his own misconduct. Such conduct, while condemnable, and requiring substantial discipline, did not compel termination, as it did not "present one of those ‘rare instances’ in which an arbitrator’s award must be vacated as contrary to ‘an explicit, well-defined, and dominant public policy.’ "
While this case involved a corrections officer, it seems to have equal application to police officers. As such, this decision should make public employers reconsider their threats of termination when they assert that police officers have lied in the course of an internal affairs investigation.