What some may call hypocritical, the Seal Beach Police Department recently terminated a Custody Officer/Appellant, under the auspices of violating a variety of safety protocols, while the Department was in blatant violation of its own policies relating to minimum staffing requirements at the City’s jail. Attorney Andrew M. Dawson represented the Custody Officer during the administrative appeal of this matter. There were no substantial disputes regarding the facts of this case; however, the alleged violations did not warrant termination, which was agreed to by the Arbitrator.
The Custody Officer was assigned to work in the City’s jail facility, which was primarily a “pay to stay” facility for non-violent inmates, who were housed and enrolled in a work-release program. The allegations surrounding the Custody Officer’s termination arose on February 7, 2010 (Super Bowl Sunday) when the Custody Officer allowed three inmates to order pizzas and watch the Super Bowl game in the jail office. While in the jail office, the Custody Officer left the inmates unsupervised five separate times for periods of time ranging from 8 seconds to 80 seconds and allowed one inmate to view his Facebook page and look at hers while in the office.
The Department alleges these serious breaches of security could have caused a myriad of officer-safety issues. However, the Arbitrator recognized “the Department has created the proverbial parade of possible horrible consequences that overstate the seriousness of some of the violations.” Moreover, the Arbitrator recognized that mere access to the jail office was not the only possible place where inmates could allegedly arm themselves, as there were other items readily available in other parts of the jail that could have been weaponized.
Additionally, the Arbitrator found that there were mixed signals given to staff and the Department had failed to properly train employees, as it had previously allowed out-of-plan meals to be brought in for special occasions. Why would the Custody Officer believe that ordering pizza for the Super Bowl would be any different?
Lastly, the Department had policies outlining the minimum staffing levels for the City’s jail, which required a minimum of 2 custody officers on duty at a time. However, the policy “had not been followed by the Department for a substantial period prior to this occasion.” One would expect that if safety is the primary concern for the Department then why would it fail to follow minimum staffing policies? For example, on the date in question, Appellant worked alone while monitoring 23 inmates. Certainly, one custodial officer to 23 inmates is much more of an officer-safety concern than the allegations the Department made against Appellant. Why is the Seal Beach Police command staff not terminated for their blatant violations of their own policies, since they committed these alleged safety violations over a prolonged period of time and our client’s violation occurred during one day and not to the level of the Department’s violations? It is hypocrisy at its finest.
As a result, the Arbitrator held there was no just cause for discipline and thereby ordered Appellant’s immediate reinstatement with the issuance of a written warning.