Wagner, Groups Outraged at Reinstatement
Two officers were fired for a rough arrest, caught on tape. They've been reinstated and now the man who was beaten, responds. He’s not the only one. In fact, a group is calling for a change in the way the Omaha Police Department handles accusations of excessive force.
Groups like, Black Men United, want to see the police arbitration process terminated and more oversight. The union says the current process is the most fair, and least costly, to the public.
In May 2011, surveillance video showed police beating Robert Wagner during an arrest. Wagner pleaded guilty to Attempted Assault of an Officer, which police say provoked what happened. Officers Jackie Dolinsky and Aaron Pennington were fired. An arbitrator reinstated Dolinsky in June and Pennington just last month. From the beginning, Wagner thought they'd get their jobs back.
“I just thought maybe for once something would play out the right way. With the evidence being there it's not speculation, it's not hearsay, it's not somebody being upset with police, it's just what's on the video but that wasn't enough," Wagner explained.
Local groups say the reinstatement is an outrage, and sets a dangerous precedent. They'd like to see the arbitration process eliminated from the police union contract. They say the arbitration process is completely secret, and the reasoning for the reinstatement isn’t explained well enough.
"We need checks and balances,” said Willie Hamilton, the Founder of Black Men United. "We need independent oversight, independent of the mayor's office and independent of the police department."
Omaha Police Officers' Association President John Wells says an independent arbitrator is used in this process because it's more timely and cost efficient than going through the courts. The arbitrator concluded the city doesn't have just cause to fire Pennington for using excessive force in the May 2011 incident.
“This notion that we go to arbitration as some sort of secret means to keep bad cops on the job just simply isn't true, Wells described. "Could there be a better approach? Maybe. Could that situation be handled differently? Everybody looks at it through the 20/20 hindsight and says we should've handled it differently but that's not the standard under which the Supreme Court of the United States says that officers should be judged."
Hamilton says they want to make police oversight an important topic in the upcoming mayor's race.
The police union says whether it's through arbitration or the courts every citizen, including police officers, has the right to due process. The Omaha police union contract expires at the end of 2013.