Rains, Lucia & Stern
Arbitrator Michael D. Rappaport has ordered the reinstatement of Oakland Police Officer Andrew Blue, who was improperly fired based on erroneous claims that he had lied during a family law proceeding in which he was acting as his own counsel. The Arbitrator required the City to pay Officer Blue the salary and benefits that he would have earned during the four years that he was off of the job.
Prior to being fired, Officer Blue was a 10-year Department veteran who had never been disciplined. He was a former football player and Marine who rose up from humble beginnings to a career with the Oakland Police Department. Andrew served in the Schools Unit, patrolling one of the nation’s most challenging public education systems. In that assignment, Officer Blue distinguished himself because of his reliability and by developing a rapport with the kids with whom he worked.
Blue was embroiled in a highly contentious custody dispute with the mother of his young daughter. This woman, whom Officer Blue had only dated three times prior to her unplanned pregnancy, can be best characterized as a serial manipulator.
On December 13, 2007, Officer Blue’s sergeant called him into the office, took his badge and gun, stripped him of his police powers and had him escorted out of the building. In the parlance of the OPD rank and file, being “walked out” is considered a sure harbinger of termination. His superiors were tight lipped, saying only that it was “your daughter” and they had received a call from the “State of Texas, City of Houston, for certain acts.” Fortunately, the system (at least the criminal justice system) worked for Andrew Blue: The investigators were able to determine that the mother of Blue’s daughter had coached and manipulated their daughter into making the false allegations. Nevertheless, Andrew’s nightmare did not end with his exoneration — it was just the beginning.
After the Department grudgingly cleared Officer Blue of the fabricated child abuse charges, they began investigating an additional claim by his child’s mother that Blue had lied during court. The basis of this claim was an off-duty court appearance.
On January 9, 2008, Blue had appeared in the Family Law Division of the Alameda County Superior Court. Blue was representing himself. His daughter’s mother was represented by an attorney who appeared on her behalf. The case was on calendar to formalize a stipulation. It was not a contested matter. Rather, the parties were in court to put a previously-made agreement on the record. No witnesses were called. There was no direct or cross-examination.
At the time of the appearance, Blue was on administrative leave because of his daughter’s mother’s fabrications and was still under investigation by the criminal divisions of both the Houston and Oakland Police Departments. Blue’s father, whom he described as his best friend, had died two months earlier.
The Department decided that Blue was untruthful to the Court during a somewhat rambling discourse about what his child’s mother had done and the ramifications thereof. Essentially, Officer Blue complained to the Court about his child’s mother’s conduct in making false charges against him. He told the Court that due to her claims, his schedule had been changed and he was no longer able to work his accustomed overtime. If certain portions of Officer Blue’s statement to the Court were carved out and examined (without benefit of the context), strictly speaking, they were not accurate.
For example, Officer Blue stated that his schedule had changed because of the allegations. In one sense, this was true, because Officer Blue was placed on administrative leave. Yet the Department took the position that Officer Blue’s time had expired in his assignment and that was the reason he was transferred.
At the arbitration, we were able to show that Officer Blue reasonably believed, based on what amounted to a campaign of harassment, that the transfer was due to the myriad of problems caused by his daughter’s mother — which included the allegations.
The presiding judge in the family law case understood that Blue’s statements were an emotional vent about his predicament.
THE COURT: Mr. Blue, I understand the emotion and the history that you’re speaking to me from. I’m very well aware of much of what’s gone on in your situation over the last couple of years. I guess my question for you is whether you’re just saying this by way of explaining how you feel, or whether you’re actually making — asking me to make some order that is different than the arrangement that [the attorney] thought you had agreed upon?
After listening to four days of testimony and reviewing the parties’ closing written briefs, Arbitrator Michael Rappaport completely exonerated Andrew Blue.
After looking closely at the statements that the grievant made to the Court … as well as the reaction and the entire records beforehand, the arbitrator is fully persuaded that the Department was not able to sustain that the burden of proving that the grievant was untruthful in either of the appearances before the Court relied on by the Department.
The Arbitrator similarly discounted the Department’s claims that Officer Blue had lied to Internal Affairs when denying that he had been untruthful in Court. Significantly, the Arbitrator pointed out that the Department had failed to provide Officer Blue with transcripts of the hearings in question (which they had) in order to refresh his recollection after several months about his verbatim statements.
I am very pleased to report that after four long years, Officer Blue is eager to return to serving the citizens of Oakland. This case represents an egregious example of the OPD’s emphasis on “body count” with respect to firing its officers. The administration is apparently willing to disregard the merits of a case, including objective facts, and simply fire people in order to satisfy what amounts to a quota. Nearly a year to the day before receiving the Arbitrator’s decision awarding Officer Blue his job back, I had the following e-mail exchange with the supervising city attorney in charge of the case for the Department:
I have carefully reviewed his case. I strongly believe that we will
prevail. I would be happy to share with you my thoughts about the lack of merit of the City’s case. Please consider resolving this matter which would be in everybody’s best interest.
The response: We’ve known each other too well for b.s. We are going to win …