Arbiter: Police must restore fired officer to duty
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service ordered the Marco Island Police Department to reinstate former officer John Derrig to his position with seniority and benefits.
The grievance proceeding heard by Frank J. Squillace, arbitrator in the case, found in Derrig’s favor on Nov. 23, after seven days of testimony and review of volumes of written evidence. It had been alleged that Derrig was released from employment due to his failure to carry out his responsibilities and did not comply with the police department’s rules, procedures, general orders and directives. It was further alleged he committed acts of misconduct and exhibited less than acceptable work performance.
Since joining the force in October 2005, Derrig has been discharged twice from the department. The first time was in December 2010 for what then-Police Chief Thom Carr described as “truthfulness in report writing and insubordination.” The arbitrator in his first case did not find the charges without merit, but rather directed that Derrig be “given another chance.” Derrig was reinstated in January 2012 under the command of new Police Chief Don Hunter, at which time he underwent additional training and counseling.
Derrig’s Police Benevolent Association representatives alleged that Hunter had an aversion for bringing back a previously fired employee to his staff. The PBA rep also alleged that undue supervisory pressures were brought to bear on Derrig, in addition to retaliatory actions until a case could be brought against him. Hunter had joined the Marco department in August 2011 and Derrig was reinstated to the department in January 2012.
The PAB representatives painted a picture of a department in disarray due to heightened turnover, tension among the staff members and an unhealthy workplace atmosphere wherein officers felt threatened.
Hunter would direct then-Assistant Chief David Baer to reopen an investigation into an incident at the Bombay Club that occurred in January 2008. Derrig was alleged to have been untruthful in his reporting of the use of force. Requests were made to the State Attorney’s Office, FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the incident independently. None of the agencies found reason to prosecute Derrig for a criminal act.
The department would then open its own internal affairs investigation conducted by Baer. In his findings, Baer found merit in five allegations against Derrig and the report was forwarded to Hunter for his disposition.
Derrig was subsequently investigated for a second incident in August 2013 involving a chase of a Marco resident. The case was made by the administrative staff that Derrig had initiated an unnecessary pursuit on Aug. 18, 2013, and had violated department regulations relating to the drawing of his weapon, in addition to showing a reckless disregard for the safety of his fellow officers. He was also accused of not filing the appropriate use of force report form.
Some officers on Derrig’s squad voiced concerns with the incident, but Lt. Tony Spina commented in his reports that the incident was not a “firing” situation, but did warrant some type of disciplinary action.
As a result of that incident, Derrig was taken off the night shift in September 2013 and placed on day shift under closer supervision. On Oct. 4, 2013, Derrig was relieved of his law enforcement responsibilities and assigned to administrative responsibilities. Derrig alleged that action and his assignment to demeaning tasks were aimed at punishment and had nothing to do with rehabilitative value.
The arbiter hearing the case cited testimony given by Sgt. Nick Giansanti and then-Lt. Tony Spina to support Derrig’s assertions that he had been truthful and nothing supported the allegations that Derrig had been involved in improper conduct.
Dash-cam video was also shown during the hearings, wherein Derrig is shown to treat the subject with what is described as “dignity, respect and kindness,” according to the arbiter in his report. The subject was convicted of fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer, driving while under permanent suspension, driving under the influence, refusal to submit to testing and criminal traffic citations.
The arbitrator would find no merit to the five allegations of misconduct claimed by Baer and Hunter in the first set of charges related to the incident at the Bombay Club, and called into serious question the process and management by the administrative staff in charge during that time.
Regarding the second incident, the arbitrator would find that Derrig did not show any willful or wanton disregard for his employer’s interest, did not commit any acts of employee misconduct and his conduct was not counter to the agency’s work performance standards and rules.
The union’s claim that Derrig had been retaliated against was found to be meritorious by the arbitrator and he subsequently ordered that Derrig be reinstated to his police officer position with full back pay and that his seniority, medical and all other benefits be restored.
On June 1, 2014, Hunter left the department to pursue private sector interests. The department is now headed by Police Chief Al Schettino.
On Monday, Schettino would only confirm the arbiter had made his findings.
“We are continuing to work hard to provide a first-class law enforcement agency for the taxpayers of the island. We have some of the finest officers and staff here in Florida and will continue to work hard to ensure we meet all of the challenges moving forward,” said Schettino.