A former K-9 Crow Wing County Sheriff’s deputy who was terminated last spring was back to work Monday — reinstated as a result of an arbitration ruling through the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services.
The 37-page arbitration document between Crow Wing County and the deputy’s union, Law Enforcement Labor Services Inc., ruled in favor of the deputy, whose name was redacted from the document.
At issue was whether the county violated a collective bargaining agreement by terminating the deputy without just cause. The deputy was accused of insubordination for complaining about an order to remove a file cabinet from a hallway at the sheriff’s department. It was noted by the sheriff’s department that his issue was the culmination of several performance issues with the deputy.
Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle said Wednesday that he could not release the name because of Minnesota data privacy laws regarding public employees. However, the document reports that the employee was a county K-9 sheriff deputy and that he was terminated on April 13, 2011. The Brainerd Dispatch on April 15, 2011, reported that a complaint was being investigated against Crow Wing County Sheriff’s deputy Pat Pickar, who served as the county’s K-9 officer. The story also reports that Houle at that time said Pickar is the only officer who then worked with the K-9 program.
When asked if Pickar is the deputy who was reinstated, Houle said he cannot confirm or deny if the deputy is Pickar. Pickar has been with the county since 1997.
Houle said the arbitration process is an amicable way to resolve the issue and he respects the process.
“We stand behind the decisions our administration made leading up to the arbitration. While we disagree with the outcome of the arbitration, we will follow most (of the affirmative steps in the arbitration award),” Houle said
Houle said the county does not agree with two of the five affirmative steps in the arbitration award to remedy the matter. The first step is to “reinstate the former position as a patrol deputy and as a K-9 handler within seven days of the arbitration decision.” Houle said the deputy was reinstated as a patrol deputy only.
“We no longer have a K-9 program and we do not intend to reinstate it,” said Houle. “We don’t believe that the arbitrator has a right to tell us what programs we can and can’t offer.”
The other step the county does not believe in is having Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl issue a private and formal letter of apology to the deputy and his family for the emotional and economic stress that was imposed upon them by his improper termination decision.
“We don’t have any intentions to do any apologies,” said Houle. “We don’t have anything to be sorry about. The county is committed to holding its employees to the highest standards for accountability and for them to be professionals. We will not compromise our standards because of this arbitration.”
The other three affirmative steps and actions to remedy the contractual violation are:
• Reinstate the deputy with no loss of seniority or any other rights and benefits to which he is entitled by virtue of his ongoing service with the employer.
• Immediately expunge from its records and files, including his official personnel file, any and all references to his termination on April 13, 2011. Additionally, if the employer has disseminated that termination information to other individuals and/or organizations, the employer shall make a good faith effort to retrieve that information or alternatively shall formally notify such parties that the termination has been overturned and invalidated. The employer shall notify both the union and the deputy, in writing, when the expungement process has been completed.
Houle said that the deputy will receive back pay for the time he was on leave, but the dollar amount is still be negotiated.
In an email statement from Dahl about the outcome of the arbitration, he said:
“Since coming into the office as the Crow Wing County Sheriff, our staff have been held accountable and expected to maintain a high level of professionalism and integrity. It is my sworn obligation to direct personnel and resources to provide the best law enforcement services to the citizens of Crow Wing County. It is also our utmost priority to make decisions based on what is best for the office and best for our citizens, not only what’s best for the individual employee. This set of standards will be upheld no matter the outcome of any arbitration ruling.
“I am extremely proud of our staff and the accomplishments we’ve made in this office. The overwhelming majority of our staff have no problem maintaining a high degree of professionalism and following a set of rules set forth under this administration. We will continue to hold people accountable for their actions as long as I am your sheriff.”
Pickar declined to comment Tuesday.
According to the arbitration document, which can be read in full at http://www.bms.state.mn.us/index.html:
• The sheriff’s department was commencing a project to renovate the squad room. On Feb. 17, 2011, the unnamed deputy, who had his file cabinet in the hallway, was getting ready to go on vacation. The deputy emailed a supervisor before he left about if he was able to keep his filing cabinet at his work location. The supervisor responded that he’ll “be able to keep the large filing cabinets if there’s room for them, and if they can be put in a location that looks decent.”
• The deputy left for vacation on Feb. 22, 2011 and was expected back to work on March 15, 2011. Meanwhile, several emails were sent from a supervisor, including two to all the deputies, that squad room renovations were complete and that there would be no room for the filing cabinets. Another email was sent to the clerical staff and the deputies that all items that were placed in the Law Enforcement Center hallways from the move had to be removed.
• On March 14, 2011, the supervisor noted that someone had brought the unnamed deputy’s personal cabinet from the hallway and had placed it next to his assigned work station. The supervisor checked the building access log and discovered the said deputy had logged into the building on March 13, 2011 for about 2 1/2 hours.
• On March 15, 2011, the said deputy returned to work and all the supervisors and deputies attended a routine training seminar. Over lunch a second supervisor advised the deputy that the one supervisor was upset about the fact that he had moved his file cabinet back into the squad room and that he needed to get it out ASAP. According to the second supervisor, the deputy alledgedly became angry and argued that he needed the extra file space. He also contended that the system was not fair and equitable because sergeants got more file space than deputies.
• The second supervisor told the unnamed deputy that the first supervisor wanted the cabinet out of the room and that it had to go. The second supervisor reminded the deputy about removing the cabinet the next day. The unnamed deputy said it would be out on Friday. The second supervisor took Friday to mean March 18, 2011, the first supervisor’s deadline to remove the cabinet. The second supervisor understood that the deputy’s cabinet should be out on March 16, 2011. The supervisor’s best recollection was that the deputy finished transferring his files from his drawer cabinet to the new file cabinets on March 17, 2011, and that he removed the cabinet from the “Squad Room” that same day. The supervisor confirmed that the deputy’s file cabinet was no longer in the hallway by the first supervisor’s deadline.
• The first supervisor decided to remove the deputy’s file cabinet from the squad room and placed it back out in the hallway someone on March 16, 2011, and sent an email stating: “Your four -drawer file cabinet was removed from the Squad Room and put back in the hallway. If you own it, it needs to be removed from the building by Friday (March 19.)”
• Later that day, the deputy emailed the supervisor, “ok thanks I guess. I moved it so I had easy access to move my stuff out of it without making so many trips to organize my stuff before I moved it out. But will do.”
• The record established that the deputy returned to the office on the night of March 16, 2011, brought his file cabinet back into the “Squad Room” and finished transferring his files and materials into his new cabinets. The deputy completed the task and the cabinet was subsequently out of the room and out of the building that night. The deputy believes that the second supervisor was personally aware of his actions.
• There were no further conversations or emails regarding the file cabinet situation.
• On March 22, 2011, the first supervisor filed a formal complaint against the deputy that he was in violation of department policy, specifically conduct toward a supervisor. According to the policy, every employee shall respect and promptly obey orders of a supervisor regardless of division assignment. Employees shall not publicly criticise or make derogatory comments on orders received from a supervisor. The policy also states that employees shall not refuse or fail a lawful order given by a supervisor.
• A third supervisor was investigating the complaint who reported that the complaint of misconduct against the deputy should be classified as sustained.
• The deputy was terminated on April 13, 2011, and the union filed a grievance on April 18, 2011.