59 Days of Combined Suspension Overturned

On December 11 and 12, 2023, HPOU Attorneys Aaron Suder, Chad Hoffman and George Napier represented seven HPOU members (one sergeant and six officers), formerly assigned to the Midwest Crime Suppression Team (CST), during their consolidated arbitration appeal of suspensions they received from the Department in October of 2022.  The sergeant had received a 15-day suspension, two of the officers had received 12-day suspensions and the remaining officers had each received 5-day suspensions.

The appeal was heard by Independent Arbitrator Sidney Moreland.  The Department was represented by HPD attorneys Rhonda Reece, Clarissa Wingard and Sandra Fullerton.  The Department Representative was Assistant Chief Yasser Bashir (who, it should be noted, provided honest and responsible testimony at the hearing).

The IAD complaint that led to the suspension of the former Midwest CST officers was filed against them on April 22, 2022, by another former member of the Midwest CST.  The complaining officer alleged that the other members of the Midwest CST had engaged in a pattern of misconduct over the course of several months that created a hostile work environment based on racial discrimination.

The pattern of misconduct, according to the complaining officer, culminated in an alleged “assault” that occurred during an operational briefing on April 21, 2022, in which another CST officer’s shoulder accidentally bumped into the complaining officer’s shoulder while the unit was huddled in a semi-circle, close to one another.  Following the alleged “assault,” the complaining officer issued four separate statements to the Department, which contained at least 13 additional allegations of purported misconduct on the part of the other CST officers going back for a period of nearly a year.

The Department conducted two lengthy investigations into the complaining officer’s various allegations.  The first, a full-blown SIU investigation into the ridiculous “assault” allegation,  resulted in a subsequent Grand Jury referral and no No-Bill of the target officers.  The second, a separate IAD investigation, resulted in nearly all of the remaining allegations being “not-sustained” by the Department due to their utter lack of credibility and/or contradictory evidence.  However, the Department did sustain a cite against the other CST officers for violating General Order 300-11: Discrimination, Harassment and Other Prohibited Conduct.

The main justification for the cite was that the other CST officers had maintained a “Shrine” in the Midwest CST office that, according to the Department, contained offensive and inappropriate materials.  In addition, the CST officers had periodically referred to the CST sergeant in a joking manner as “the White Devil,” which was a street name that had been given to the sergeant earlier in his career by South Gessner gang members with whom he was on familiar, and even friendly, terms. According to the Department, the maintenance of the “Shrine” and references to the sergeant as “the White Devil,” among other things, were inappropriate and unprofessional in the workplace, and thus violated the “Other Prohibited Conduct” section of General Order 300-11.

During the arbitration hearing, the Department spent an inordinate amount of time presenting the allegations of the complaining officer that were not sustained, rather than focusing on the conduct that was actually cited in the Letters of Suspension.  The Department even went so far as to present the testimony of an IAD sergeant, who vividly and colorfully offered her interpretation of some of the “symbolism” portrayed by the objects in the “Shrine.”  According to the IAD sergeant, whose testimony can only be described as unhinged and utterly detached from reality, some of the objects in the “Shrine” were symbols associated with devil worshippers, underage sex predators and white slave owners.

The Union attorneys presented evidence and argument that effectively eviscerated the Department’s case.  To begin with, the “Shrine” was nothing more than a collection of humorous objects and momentos, as well as random objects from around the Midwest CST office, that were meant to foster a sense of camaraderie and humor in the office and nothing more.  The objects in the “Shrine” had nothing, whatsoever, to do with any deeper, more sinister symbolism.  They included things like a framed picture of Obi Wan Kenobi, a Bible, a chalice, a Bic lighter, some ring pops, a business card, some spare bullets and a variety of candles that depicted images of characters such as baby Yoda, Keanu Reeves as the movie character ‘John Wick,’ and the late singer Selena Quintanilla.  The objects also included two made-to-order candles containing humorous depictions of the CST sergeant and one of the CST officers.  The two officers who created the “Shrine” between their work cubicles simply viewed it as a humorous parody of the types of ‘dark arts’ shrines used by gang members associated with Mexican drug cartels, which they had both seen in the past during their various HPD assignments.

In addition, as the Union established, the reference to the CST sergeant as the “White Devil” was nothing more than a sarcastic and satirical nod to the street name that had been given to him when he worked at South Gessner.  The officers found the moniker to be particularly humorous considering that it was the complete opposite of what the CST officers knew of the sergeant’s character and background—a person of great faith who happened to have been raised in a devout Christian household and who regularly demonstrated unassailable moral values and personal conduct (this was, after all, a person who donated a kidney to a fellow officer that he didn’t even know).

In short, the Union argued, no one with a functioning brain could have possibly viewed the “Shrine” or the satirical references to the sergeant as “the White Devil” as being objectively offensive or inappropriate to the degree that it violated General Order 300-11.

After hearing the evidence and arguments at the arbitration hearing, the Arbitrator ultimately agreed with the Union’s position on all material issues and thoroughly rejected and repudiated the Department’s findings.  On December 22, 2023, he issued an Award in favor of the former CST officers and overturned the discipline in its entirety (59 total days of suspension).

Published January 12, 2024

Author Aaron Suder, HPOU General Counsel