Minneapolis police union head signals fight for fired officers’ jobs

A line of police officers in riot gear with bicycles
Minneapolis police officers with bicycles stand in a line during a May 27, 2020, protest against the killing of George Floyd.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The head of the Minneapolis police union is saying former officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers who were involved in the killing of George Floyd last week were fired without due process, suggesting the officers may try to get their jobs back. 

“I’ve worked with the four defense attorneys that are representing each of our four terminated individuals under criminal investigation, in addition with our labor attorneys to fight for their jobs,” Lt. Bob Kroll said in a letter to union members that surfaced on social media.

In past cases involving allegations of wrongdoing by officers, the Minneapolis Police Department has typically conducted internal investigations and then forwarded the results to a discipline panel made up of senior department leadership, including the chief. 

“I think that’s the normal process, but I don’t think it’s cast in stone,” said labor attorney Gregg Corwin. “There’s exceptions to every rule.”

For more than 40 years, Corwin has represented police officers and other public employees challenging their terminations or discipline. He said he has no inside knowledge of how these officers were fired.  It's unclear whether the full review occurred in this case, but the four officers were fired just a day after Floyd died in custody, so the process was at the very least expedited. 

Corwin said under the city's collective bargaining agreement, officers, like other public employees, have a right to arbitration, a civil service panel hearing or if they are veterans, they can undergo a veteran's preference hearing. 

However, if the four officers involved in Floyd’s death are convicted of felonies, they cannot get their jobs back because they can no longer be police officers in the state of Minnesota.

According to a study of arbitrator awards conducted by a University of Minnesota researcher, more than half of the time arbitrators side in favor of the employers who fire police officers.

A few fired Minnesota police officers have gotten their jobs back over the last several years.

Richfield police officer Nate Kinsey was fired after he slapped a teenage boy during a confrontation. The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the arbitrator’s decision to reinstate after the appeals court sided with the city of Richfield to maintain Kinsey’s termination. 

University of Minnesota police officer Phillip Lombardi was reinstated after challenging a termination in 2018. And in 2016, Minneapolis police officer Blayne Lehner was given his job back after being fired by then-Chief Janeé Harteau.

On Tuesday, Harteau said the union and arbitrators hampered her ability to bring about change in police culture.

"When I either impose discipline or terminate officers for wrongdoing, it's either the union filing grievances fighting against me or it's the arbitrators who are undoing the discipline or the terminations,” said Harteau. “So, who really has the power to change the culture?" 

In 2013, Harteau fired two officers who used racial slurs and acted belligerently while on an off-duty outing in Green Bay, Wis. Those officers challenged their firings, but Harteau's terminations were upheld

Arbitrator’s decisions can be appealed, but rarely overturned

The state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Board can also revoke the licenses of officers, but that is a process that is rarely, if ever done, said Corwin. 

“There’s been issues about whether that will change or not,” said Corwin. “But right now, they normally don’t.”

The board has been the target of criticism from police accountability activist groups like Communities United Against Police Brutality. The Minneapolis-based group has pushed for the board to use their authority to take disciplinary action against police officers more often.

On Tuesday, they issued a press release calling for the board to revoke the licenses of the four officers involved in Floyd’s death.

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