Arbitration reversals eroding accountability
An arbitrator did McMinnville residents a grave injustice when he ordered reinstatement of police officer Tim Heidt, whose excessive indulgence in alcohol, violence and dissembling has, in our view, been amply documented. The arbitrator doesn’t have to live with the result, which is immune from appeal, but the rest of us do.
Video evidence that didn’t surface until two years after the incident depicts Heidt, a hulking defensive tactics expert, launching an unprovoked attack on diminutive bystander Hipolito Aranda during a February 2010 traffic stop. It shows Heidt throwing him to the pavement and pummeling him, breaking his arm and two of his ribs.
So, did Heidt end up facing charges? No, Aranda did — interfering with an officer and resisting arrest. Interestingly, a jury apparently found Aranda more credible, acquitting him without benefit of the damning video.
In February 2012, Heidt got into a vacation brawl in Seaside after downing, by his own estimate, 12 or 13 drinks. According to police, he threw a disabled man across the dance floor and was tossed out by a bouncer. Outside, he got into a brawl with some of the man’s friends, then headed for home.
Mistaking another residential unit for his, he tried to force his way in, leading the terrified female occupant to call 911. While police were trying to interview him, he tumbled backward over a fence, but they gave him a professional pass on criminal accountability.
The beating video surfaced as officials were preparing to defend a civil suit filed by Aranda, and it forced them into a $295,000 payout.
Heidt’s accounts did not seem to square with the facts in either case, and he was dismissed in June 2013. A union grievance called for binding arbitration, and arbitration almost inevitably seems to go the union’s way.
In Portland, every excessive force termination in the past 20 years has been overturned. In one recent case, the city was ordered to reinstate an officer fired for shooting an unarmed man in the back.
When a citizen review board unanimously recommended termination of a captain for road rage and sexual harassment, the chief opted instead for demotion, and an arbitrator found even that excessive. When an officer was fired for smoking marijuana, driving drunk and sharing narcotics, an arbitrator concluded the proper course was offering him help dealing with medical and mental disabilities.
The local decision reflects that kind of reasoning: In the beating case, Heidt injured his hand pummeling Aranda, prompting him to file a workers compensation claim, and his memory had faded by the time he recovered enough to complete his report; in the brawl case, his credibility was clouded by extreme inebriation.
None of that rings true.
Short term, we see no viable solution. Long term, we favor taking binding arbitration off the table locally through negotiation or statewide through legislation, at least in cases where excessive force is an issue.
The police are charged with holding the rest of us accountable. We do the officers a disservice if we do not hold them accountable in return.