A Washington Post Freedom of Information Act project revealed that police chiefs are often forced to rehire officers who were fired for misconduct, including incidences of unjustified shootings, public trust betrayals, and overtime theft.
“Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers… But the Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts,” reads the post.
While the 1,881 officers spanned the nation, many of these cases took place in Texas.
One case WaPo highlighted was Fort Worth officer Jesus “Jesse” Banda Jr. who, on New Year’s Day 2007, sat watch outside of an all-night party that his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend were attending.
They reported that Banda ran a check on the man’s license plate to determine his address, and days later his truck was found to have been riddled with bullet holes. While Banda denied any involvement in the shooting, and an investigation could prove no linkage, the department determined he lied when giving a reason for running the license plate check.
He was placed on restricted duty and suspended indefinitely for unethical behavior. According to the story, Banda was told not to present himself as a police officer while on suspension, but when a limo he was a passenger in was pulled over, he presented his police credentials, spurring a second internal investigation.
Shortly thereafter, he was reinstated by an arbitrator who determined that running a plate check for personal use was wrong but did not warrant the firing. After reinstatement, Banda was fired for the limousine incident. Subsequent to hearing arguments from his union attorney, the case examiner reinstated him.
In another Texas case, Matthew Belver, a nine-year San Antonio police department veteran, challenged a handcuffed “suspect” to a fight while in custody. He was placed back on the force in April of 2017.
A video of the incident shows Belver telling the “suspect” that he would let him go only if he was willing to fight the officer.
We’re using quotations on “suspect” because when he asked the officer why he was being arrested, Belver said, “I’ll think of something.” The suspect, Eloy Leal, was arrested because Belver claimed he interfered with his duties as a public servant. Following a shooting near Leal’s home, he went outside to see what was going on. Noticing that Belver wasn’t making note of shell casings in the street, Leal went home to get his camera, which is when Belver arrested him.
Belver had already received an indefinite suspension and was reinstated following an incident in which he entered a home without a warrant and beat up a resident who allegedly caused a disturbance. His reinstatement was on the condition that he not have any other misconduct allegations.
His attorney argued that because the “last chance agreement” made following the first incident only lasted two years, it could not be considered in this instance. Also, his union contract prohibited the department from considering any incidents that happened more than 180 days prior.
Belver was issued a 45-day suspension and ordered back-pay for the missed time from the firing that totaled $66,662.
According to the data, 467 officers from Texas’ major cities and counties have been fired since 2006, and 122 have been forced to be rehired following appeals and arbitration.
San Antonio Police Department had to rehire 31 of 44 officers that were fired, but the most firings occurred in the Harris County Sherriff’s Office, with 143 released and 29 rehired. The City of Houston has rehired 24 of its 107 fires, and Dallas 32 of 120.
This should draw major concern. If union-required arbitration can force police officers who abused their position and undermined public trust back on the street, who are the agencies truly serving?