Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fired Officer Makinga Return

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fired Officer Makinga Return

Article excerpt

SARASOTA: Axed for violent arrest, he gets job back with arbitrator's blessing

SARASOTA

A fired police officer will be back in uniform again because of one man who is largely unknown and unaccountable to anyone.

Officer Scott Patrick was fired in 2012 for beating a man during an arrest. Two years later, over the objections of police and city officials, he has regained his job and will return to patrolling the streets -- with back pay and a raise.

The reversal of fortune was decided by a Sarasota attorney appointed as an arbitrator when Patrick challenged his firing through the union grievance process. For years, such outcomes have frustrated police chiefs, citizens and state law enforcement officials, who see this as a thwarting of efforts to hold officers accountable.

In this case, the arbitrator approved of Patrick's decision to punch a man 10 times in the face, and ordered that the department reinstate him.

Experts say Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino can't be blamed, and there is little that state officials can do about it. Union contracts and state law make it virtually impossible to appeal an arbitrator's decision, even if it means throwing out an internal affairs investigation that showed serious violations involving violence.

"It is disheartening to see it overturned," said Glen Hopkins, bureau chief of standards for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

His office is responsible for seeking revocation of law enforcement licenses in cases of severe misconduct. But there is nothing he can do if an arbitrator dismisses the charges.

"A lot of the agencies don't like it, either, and for good reason, because they've done their investigation and invested a lot of time and money in this."

In a union-grievance hearing earlier this year, Sarasota's former police chief Mikel Hollaway defended his decision to fire Patrick.

An internal investigation had concluded that Patrick violated department policies when he punched, choked, and cursed at Jason B. Dragash, then 29, while arresting him on Aug. 4, 2012, at the Ivory Lounge nightclub on Main Street.

"I should have killed him," Patrick remarked after, according to the reports of fellow officers.

A video of the incident was given scant attention in the grievance hearing, according to Sarah Warran, an assistant city attorney. The arbitrator, Sarasota lawyer Stanley Sergent, watched it once or twice before remarking on its poor quality, Warren said.

He gave more weight to the testimony that there might have been some broken pieces of glass in the area that Dragash could have used as a weapon.

The city had done its best to get a fair arbitrator, Warren said. After requesting a list of certified arbitrators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, each side vetoes candidates, for being too closely associated with employers or labor unions, until only one name remains. …

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