Another arbitrator rules in favor of Rawlston

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

(Background history here and here.)

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The issue stems from a 2008 LTC test where Rawlston answered “no” to a question that asked if his license had ever been revoked, denied or suspended.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.

The Telegram wraps it up succinctly this morning and says indications are the city will appeal this ruling too. Read the arbitrator’s report here.

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.



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10 responses to “Another arbitrator rules in favor of Rawlston

  1. Mr. Integrity

    When will this end? How can anyone justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to fire a cop that everyone says shouldn’t be fired? Hang in there Gunnerson. Being punished for doing your job just shows how vindictive and unethical Gary Gemme really is. I hope both Rawlston and the union sue Gemme over this injustice.

  2. Will W. W.

    His job you say?
    Apart from the fact he wasn’t on duty and tried to pistol whip a bunch of stupid kids for being stupid kids. Geez, imagine if you parked in front of his driveway or your doggie pissed on his lawn. Summary execution?

    Society has enough wackos roaming the streets and letting a wacko wear a badge is not a precedent we need.

    This isn’t a question of wrong or right, but of employment law.

    They’ll get rid of him somehow. Hopefully soon.

  3. -Q

    This case is nothing more than a personal vendetta brought on by the city managers oversized ego.
    These abhorent needless costs to the taxpayers is shameful.
    If the city manager is truly serious about saving taxpayers dollars he could end this travesty and injustice immediately, but that would get in the way of his bloated over-inflated ego.
    The city manager has lost each and every step of the way in his personal grudge match and vendetta against a heroic Police Officer answering the calls of his fellow neighbors in fear of the continuing crime wave in their neighborhood.
    How many times have we heard city officials pleading with city employees to live in the city, especially public safety employees?
    After the way the city manager hung Officer Rawlston out to dry, there probably will not be any city employee looking to move back into the city – why would they? the city manager is just going to back stab them.
    Just the fact that the city manager has to use outside legal council instead of the taxpayers financed city law department clearly indicates the complete lack of confidence the city manager has in the abilities of the citys own taxpayer financed law department. Why should taxpayers fund the city law department if the city manager is not going to utylize them?
    The city of worcester has lost its case in 5 seperate independent investigations.
    The City of Worcester has now been ordered numerous times to cover the legal costs incurred by Officer Rawlston and Local 911-PBA, pay Officer Rawlston 3 years worth of back pay and benefits and demonstrable missed overtime duty. The taxpayers are looking at costs to resolve the above matter are somewhere in the neighborhood of exceeding $500,000 not including the lawsuits headed the citys way for this poorly handled debacle by the city manager and his cohorts. When added up all altogether this farce will eventually cost the city of worcesters taxpayers in excess of $1m+.
    The next time you hear the city manager moaning about cuts in aid, etc……just remember who is the biggest drain on the city budget for needless and reckless spending of the taxpayers dollars to satisfy a bloated ego – city manager mike o’brien.

  4. Paula Spect

    Enough already, How many times does this Officer have to win and be ordered back to work before they put him back? Gemme and O’Brien need to put this behind them and move on, it has already cost way too much and if this Injustice continues will cost alot more of our tax dollars.

  5. Boots

    I gotta tell ya that this state, city and towns has a funny way of applying labor laws. Try to find anything directly related to Mass. labor laws on their web site. It Is Impossible!

    On the other hand the NLRB and the DoL web sites have everything you wanted to know about federal labor laws but were afraid to ask.

    Having been involved with the NLRA and dealing with the NLRB many times on behalf of myself & other employees over the years, it seems this City Manager and Chief of Police have broken several laws in the federal labor law books.

    The WPD can not revoke the status of a duly elected union official. That’s why elections are held.

    The Manager or Police Chief can not keep going to different arbitrators. However, they may go up the chain of appeals until they reach the Supreme Court. Then it’s over.

    Seems to me Rawlston know more about the law than those over him. And that ain’t a good thing … for the taxpayers, that is.

    O’Brien & Gemme have to learn “how to fold ’em,” as the song goes, and get their heads out of their —– while they’re at it!

  6. You liberals are amazingly stupid

    I can hear you all chanting “My union member, right or wrong”.
    And I guess that you don’t read the papers much. Or you ignore that which does not support your arguments.

    The city took the case to Superior Court, which upheld the arbitrator’s action on a legal technicality. The judge acknowledged that the use of a loaded firearm without a safety lever to make contact with a person’s head “can certainly be characterized as wanton and grossly negligent.” She said striking someone is “assault and battery even if the injury was not intended.” She also found the youthful victims more truthful than the officer, and questioned the arbitrator’s conclusion that Officer Rawlston’s action did not violate department regulations.

    Lets just keep the rogue cops on the street in the name of union solidarity.

  7. Boots

    Seems like SOME PEOPLE have quite an imagination. They know what happened, why it happened and the attitudes of those involved WITHOUT even being there. Now that’s something special.

    A cop is “on duty” 24-7 (officially or unofficially). WHAT IF someone special was in a store and some guy pointed a gun at him and requested his money while an “officially” off duty cop who was there turned and walked out the door? Then after the fact, someone says, “I know that guy who walked out the door, he’s a cop.” What do you think would happen then?

    It’s amazing how so many people have opinions about things they know nothing about, e.g. employment law.

  8. Gemmeoligy101

    To “You liberals are amazingly stupid ”
    If you could actually read English you would see that the judge said it was the cities contention that those claims happened and even if they did she did not have the authority to overturn the Arbitrator. You must be “amazingly stupid” to believe that it could have happed like you say after multiple agencies said it did not. Cleared of any wrongdoing and ordered to be reinstated with full pay. That’s the fact!!!

  9. -Q

    As predicted some time ago Officer Rawlston WILL be re-instated regardless of the city managers personal vendetta against this heroic police officer………….at the same time we, as taxpayers, are paying our hard earned tax dollars to cover the whole costs of outside legal council regarding these outrageous irresponsible actions perpetrated by the city manager in this case of a complete miscarriage of justice.
    So much for any confidence of our tax payer financed city law department. It is all too apparent that the city manager has absolutely no faith in the services being provided by the citys own law department…………taxpayers are being double billed for attorney fees because of the city managers ignorance and personal grudges he holds against certain union members in our city………..the taxpayers are being ill served by this city manager

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