Unfavorable arbitration decisions could cost Marco Island more than $150K
This is a six-month review of the most-read crime stories in Collier County on naplesnews.com from March 2019 to August 2019. Naples Daily News
The prospect of an arbitrator reinstating two fired Marco Island police officers could have the city suffering insult to injury.
Along with the possibility of taking back officers it deemed not suitable for employment, an award of full back pay to both officers could result in more than a $150,000 combined financial hit.
A decision on the case of Kevin Hennings, who was fired after being accused of having sex on duty, is expected this month. Tige Thompson, the officer who was removed for his placement on the state attorney's office's do not subpoena list, is expected to learn his fate shortly after Hennings.
If back pay is awarded, City Manager Mike McNees said the city would use any dollars that were previously budgeted for salaries but never dispersed. Any remaining amounts owed would come of out contingency and reserve funds, he said.
Because Hennings was fired after the 2019 fiscal year budget was set, his position had already been budgeted for. Thompson was removed mid-year so a portion of his salary could be covered as well.
Hennings was one of three former police officers internal affairs investigations found to have had sex on duty. While then-Sgts. Neil Giansanti and James Inlow resigned under investigation, Hennings denied the allegations and was placed on paid leave for nearly five months before his Sept. 18, 2018, termination.
Before Hennings' termination was announced, records show the city paid more than $10,000 legal fees for his internal affairs investigation. Those figures do not include more than $4,000 paid to consultant Ken Afienko to conduct interviews.
Thompson's employment came under scrutiny in early 2019 after the Naples Daily News began investigating why he was continuing to make arrests despite the state attorney's office indicating it would never call him as a witness in a criminal trial due to credibility concerns.
The 1963 Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland established that prosecutors were required to disclose any exculpatory evidence, including evidence that would impeach a witness.
Officers who could not testify were placed on the so-called "Brady List."
Thompson's credibility was called into question after he was found to have given inconsistent and untruthful testimony as part of a 2011 DUI case where the state eventually had to drop the charges.
The state attorney's office also cited Thompson's previous termination from the Collier County Sheriff's Office in 2004 as part of its rationale.
The local list contains the names of 14 officers scattered between agencies in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.
Only Donald Weathers, who was fired by the Fort Myers Police Department and then hired by the Hendry County Sheriff's Office, remains employed as a sworn law enforcement offer in the 20th Judicial Circuit.
Although the state attorney's office took its position on Thompson years ago, he remained on patrol, resulting in the vast majority of his cases not being prosecuted.
None of his arrests went to trial after he was placed on the list. He was eventually let go on May 15, 2019.
In its notice dismissing Thompson, the city cited his inability to fulfill the duties of his job, which include testifying in court. The city did offer him civilian employment, but he declined and opted for going through arbitration.
Thus far, the city has spent more than $50,000 in legal fees between Thompson and Hennings' cases, billing statements show.
Questions arise if officers reinstated
If either Hennings or Thompson is reinstated, questions will arise as to their immediate roles.
Hennings turned himself in to Charlotte County Jail last week after he was charged with one count of unlawful use of badges or other marks of authority.
The charge stems from a traffic stop initiated by a Collier County Sheriff's Office deputy weeks ago on Tamiami Trail East. During the stop, Hennings produced a fake retirement ID and badge from Marco Island Police Department, which confirmed neither was ever issued or authorized.
"No, we did not issue a MIPD retirement ID nor a MIPD retirement badge to Kevin Hennings," Capt. Dave Baer previously wrote in an email to the Naples Daily News. "The City has and does encourage the appropriate charges to be filed based on the circumstances."
The arrest won't have any bearing whether he get his job back as his arrest occurred after arbitration proceedings wrapped up. If found guilty, it could impact his employment status if he's reinstated.
Baer declined to answer questions on what the city could do about the arrest, stating it would inappropriate to speculate.
As for Thompson, if he is reinstated, the question will be whether the state attorney's office changes its position on him.
Before his termination, Thompson's legal counsel had appealed to the state attorney's office to reconsider their decision, citing "defects" in the department's internal affairs investigation, but was ultimately rebuffed.
Matt Sellers, president of the Police Benevolent Association's Gulf Coast chapter, previously told the Daily News that a favorable arbitration decision could lead to his removal from the list.
A precedent was set a few years ago when former Marco Island police officer John Derrig, once a member of the infamous list, was able to use his arbitration decision to change the state attorney's office's mind after he was reinstated.
Connect with reporter Devan Patel: @DevanJPatel (Twitter) or firstname.lastname@example.org