Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
Arbitrator Roberta Golick (who serves as president of the National Academy of Arbitrators) ruled Tuesday that the latest case brought forth by the city against terminated Worcester police officer David Rawlston fit the mold of previous hearings that have gone in Rawlston’s favor, ruling:
“The discharge of David Rawlston on February 18, 2010, was not for just cause. Rawlston is entitled to immediate reinstatement to the active payroll, with full back pay and benefits, including demonstrable lost overtime”.
Past hearings over Rawlston’s termination focused around his conduct the night he and three teens got in an altercation on Tory Fort Lane. This hearing, however, focused on the city’s latest manuever to keep Rawlston from re-entering the WPD: revoking his license to carry. (You can’t be a cop if you can’t carry a gun.) Chief of Police Gary Gemme ultimately has final say over any LTC application in Worcester.
The issue stems from a 2008 LTC test where Rawlston answered “no” to a question that asked if his license had ever been revoked, denied or suspended. As Golick explains in her ruling, you can’t suspend a license if there isn’t one to suspend:
As everyone acknowledges, the answer “no” is technically accurate, for at the time the Chief expressed his “intention” to suspend Rawlston’s LTC in September 2007, the officer’s license had been long expired. Rawlston therefore did not possess a License to Carry that the Chief could suspend.
She does see the city’s argument, though:
The City may reasonably hold to the opinion that Rawlston should have at least provided the information that if he did have a Chapter 140 License to Carry, it would have been suspended back in September 2007.
But in the end she writes it boils down to the city’s framing this as “perjury” and firing him because of it.
The task here is not to determine who is right on this question. Rawlston was not fired for giving the wrong answer. He was fired for lying, and that charge requires a showing that Rawlston knowingly and deliberately answered the question falsely. By that standard, the charge of perjury fails. While it is true that Rawlston “knew” that the Chief had intended to suspend his LTC, he believed, not unreasonably, that the Chief’s September letter had no impact whatsoever on the actual status of his LTC because he did not have a LTC at the time. Rawlston also “knew” that the Chief would be reviewing his application and he knew that the Chief knew of his own September 2007 effort to suspend the officer’s LTC. The application that Rawlston submitted in April 2008 was a simple one with straightforward questions. It did not seek further explanations or additional information beyond “yes” and “no” answers.
Golick writes that not only does she understand the city’s move, but she ties it into the larger issue: should Rawlston be reinstated?
The circumstances are quite straightforward and are not in dispute: the Chief is not swayed by and disagrees with the facts found by Arbitrator Higgins relative to Rawlston’s conduct in the Tory Fort Lane incident; the Chief stated publicly after the Higgins award that the Department would do everything it could do to prevent Rawlston from returning. How did it do that?…it launched a collateral attack on the officer’s qualifications to serve as a police officer by cutting off any legal route for him to be able to carry a gun…The case at hand is an example of the Worcester Police Department hoping to achieve by fiat that which it failed to achieve in the Higgins case, namely, the permanent removal of Officer Rawlston from the force. The Chief is free to disagree with the outcome of the Higgins arbitration, and he may be free to exercise his claimed authority to refuse to permit Rawlston to carry a weapon. But in the realm of just cause, which is the contractual standard for dismissal, the City’s reliance on an alleged “disqualification” that the Chief himself decided to impose so as to prevent Rawlston from reinstatement was capricious and does not meet the test of contractual fairness.
In related news, as we reported in January New England Police Benevolent Association local 911 President Stephen Gunnerson has filed an unfair labor practice over the WPD revoking his status as a full-time union head. (The city and WPD say there’s no mention of that in the contract, while Gunnerson and the NEPBA it’s the way business has been done for the past 19 years.) Gunnerson is still relegated to the cell room, and now says any union work he does has to be on his own time. Despite insistence from the WPD that he just needed to tell his superiors he was leaving during the day for the union office, Gunnerson says higher-ups are no longer signing off on his requests.