It's arbitrary: Bad cops and arbitration

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Jeffery Cujdik walks back to the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on January 27, 2009. ( David Maialetti / Staff Photographer )

WHO'S SURPRISED that Jeffrey Cujdik got his job back? Not me. Depressed? Totally. Disgusted? God, yes.

But surprised? Please - this is Philly, where enough cops who disgrace the Philadelphia Police Department, no matter how badly, somehow manage to successfully appeal their firing before arbitrators unable (or unwilling) to see wrongs that, I swear, would make Stevie Wonder's eyes pop.

At least Cujdik, investigated by police Internal Affairs for falsifying search warrants and crossing the line with an informant, won't be getting back pay for the time he has missed since he was canned in May. So the city - already out $1.7 million to settle 33 lawsuits resulting from raids by Cujdik and his rogue narcotics squad - won't be cutting another miserable check.

Talk about cold comfort.

Cujdik joins a repellent club of officers whose reinstatements shock the conscience and mock the character of thousands of men and women in the Philadelphia Police Department who'd rather look for a new line of work than betray the trust we put in the badges they wear.

You remember Jonathan Josey, don't you? He's the big, muscular lieutenant who was fired after cold-cocking a woman after the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2012. The bloody smackdown was caught on tape and went viral, for good reason: It was absolutely horrific.

He was acquitted of assault anyway, and then the Fraternal Order of Police appealed his firing. An arbitrator gifted Josey with reinstatement, then topped it with a big, fat bow: back pay.

This for an officer who, before the punch, had been accused multiple times of physical abuse on the job. One complaint even resulted in a $7,500 payout by the city to a man who alleged that Josey threw him against a wall, and kicked and punched him.

Maybe Josey thought his vow to protect and serve gave him license to punch and pummel.

Then there's Officer Michael Paige, who in 2007 was accused of forcing a man to perform oral sex on him in a dark corner of Fairmount Park on a snowy night. The accuser had DNA evidence - Paige's semen - but Paige dodged conviction when a judge deemed the encounter consensual. At least in a subsequent civil trial, Paige was found liable for violating the victim's civil rights and was ordered to pay him $165,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Still, Paige got his job back in arbitration. Even though, by his own admission, he frequently had consensual sex with women in the park while on the job. In fact, he wildly speculated, that was probably how the victim got hold of Paige's semen in the first place: he fished one of Paige's used condoms from the snow.

Please smack me if I'm missing something here, but even if that wack-a-doodle scenario were true, why didn't Paige's use of his patrol car as a love den get him booted off of the force?

How low does the bar go?

Not every fired officer gets reinstated, of course. John Hargraves III, an officer in the 16th District, was canned in 2012 following charges of domestic violence against his wife. After his acquittal, he thought he'd get his job back. But just last week, he learned, the firing was upheld - even though other officers are immediately rehired when they are exonerated by the court on criminal charges.

"The system is preferential and wishy-washy," says Hargraves, who, interestingly, was also fired in 2003 for missing property receipts totaling $1,500. In that case, he appealed and got his job back.

So was the system wishy-washy back then? Or was it just wishy-washy in his favor?

Snarkiness aside, the arbitrary nature of the system plagues the Police Depertment, says Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Police Advisory Commission. On Monday, he released the commission's 2012-13 annual report, which calls for the city to re-examine its arbitration process.

The commission looked at 26 cases of police officers fired between 2008 and last year for a range of offenses. The commission found that 19 of the cops were reinstated by arbitrators.

So were the firings faulty? Or were the arbitrations flawed? And how can we clean it up?

"Arbitration is the rabbit hole," says Anderson. "First, there's the invisibility of the process, and all the levels of appeal the officers go through. Then there's the accusation by the FOP that the commissioner rushes to judgment when he fires an officer. But then there's also the fact that the arbitrator's decision is final. So if he reinstates an officer, there is no way for the city to appeal that decision, even if the arbitrator had faulty information."

Indeed, Hargraves, the twice-fired cop, says his second firing, after domestic-violence charges, was upheld because the arbitrator was told Hargraves had had a prior 30-day suspension on similar charges. But in fact, he said, that was false.

"It didn't matter," he says. "The arbitrator's view of me was already tainted."

The Police Advisory Commission's report only chips at the problem. Since 2008, at least 146 officers have been fired from the Police Department. Some have been arrested, some will appeal, some will never wear a badge again.

The process that determines the outcome needs to be transparent and fair. Right now, it is anything but.

That's no way to treat the badge or the people who trust it.

 

 


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