FOP Contract Arbitrator Says “Destroy All Records”
Ken Hare – Chicago Defender Staff Writer
Last week on January 15 in Judge Peter Flynn’s courtroom, the drama surrounding the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) v. the City of Chicago case centering around the destruction of police misconduct records continued.
In a room full of attorneys for both sides and journalist/activist Jamie Kalven and University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman representing the people, a status hearing took place updating Judge Flynn on the decision arbitrator George Roumell Jr. rendered on January 12 ordering the city to start destroying police misconduct records dating back to 1967.
After the hearing, FOP Attorney Pasquale Fioretto said, “We are pleased with the interim award and look forward to a final order, which hopefully will be issued by April 15.” Shawanda Miller, an African-American rank and file member of the police department, agreed with the arbitrator’s decision. She said “Keeping the records opens up the city to frivolous lawsuits. The public has the time during the five to seven year (allotted period) to take action against an officer. “
“The community needs to come together to deal with the complaints in a timely manner because citizens can file a complaint against an officer for any reason and rack up numerous complaints just to get back at someone.”
Illinois State Rep. LaShawn Ford is working in conjunction with the NAACP to sponsor a bill to amend the Illinois Local Records Act to keep public records on file permanently.
When questioned about the urgency of the situation, Ford said, “We would have the votes to pass a bill like this one once we present the bill to the general assembly.” However, when asked about the timing, he said, “the earliest it could possibly go into effect would be May.”
Such an amendment wouldn’t necessarily affect the preservation of the police misconduct files currently under scrutiny, but would apply to complaints filed after the amendment should it be adopted by the Illinois state legislature.
The Back Story
In 2011 and 2012, Richard Aguilar, the grievance chair of the Fraternal Order of Police, filed a grievance against the city for not destroying records of police misconduct allegations that go beyond seven years, as required in FOP’s contract with the city.
In the complaint, Aguilar alleged that the City of Chicago is “retaining files and documents in violation of Section 8.4 of the contract.”
In a June 8, 2012 letter, then-Commander Donald J. O’Neill from the Management and Labor Affairs
Division of the Police Department, rebuked Mr. Aguilar.
O’Neill stated “The Union alleges that, on April 12, 2012, it first learned that the Department has, notwithstanding Section 8.4 of the collective bargaining agreement, been preserving officer investigative files and disciplinary records and/or histories.”
“This statement and the grievance itself alleging the Department’s wrongful retention of such records are most surprising given the Union’s longstanding knowledge of the Department’s open practice of retaining disciplinary records.”
“As the Union well knows, this practice is the result of several Federal Court orders issued in litigation dating back to the early 1990’s involving matters of alleged police misconduct.”
“…The Union’s knowledge and longstanding acceptance of the Department’s practice demonstrate that the Union has waived its right to grieve this issue, given its failure to timely grieve any violation of the pertinent provisions of the collective bargaining agreement during the intervening 20 years.”
O’Neill’s bottom line was that the FOP has known about this situation for a long while and was lackadaisical about enforcing the retention of records provision.
Even though the FOP filed suit against the City in the Circuit Court, Judge Peter Flynn ordered both sides to arbitration, per the contract.
As a result, the FOP got to choose the arbitrator and they picked a favorite amongst union leaders, George Roumell Jr., an 80-plus year-old attorney and arbitrator who has settled disputes between police unions and cities across the country.
In a 2013 order settling a dispute between the cash-strapped city of Detroit and the Detroit Police Officers Association, Roumell repeatedly asserted that not reducing the officers’ pay is “in the interest and welfare of the public.”
In a carefully construed argument, he used the public’s interest to bolster the case for Detroit not cutting officers’ pay – comparing it to higher suburban police salaries – in the face of an extreme budget deficit.
However, in his ruling last week regarding Chicago’s preservation of police misconduct records, Roumell goes against the interests and welfare of the public by ruling in favor of the immediate destruction of records, possibly beginning as early as March 15, notwithstanding county, state or federal intervention.
Roumell, a 1954 graduate of Harvard University, is credited with making over 6,000 arbitration decisions. The Chicago Defender could barely find any trace of these decisions online for review. It brings to the fore yet another layer that appears shrouded and referred to in the 2002 negotiations process as an “extremely complicated disciplinary system” for Chicago police.
When reached over the MLK holiday weekend and asked if he could issue an executive order to stop the destruction of the records, Governor Bruce Rauner said that he would have to check with his legal team.
Law professor Craig Futterman said, “The city has the power to appeal the arbitrator’s decision. It’s important that the public insist that the city do so. If the city did so and did not destroy any records, that could buy a bit more time for the legislature to act.”
Journalist/activist Jamie Kalven said, “I don’t believe that the records will be destroyed.”
FOP Atty. Pasquale Fioretto said, “We have not been advised by the city as to whether or not a suit to vacate the award will be filed once the final order is issued.”
The next court hearing is scheduled for March 21, 2016, at 10 a.m in the Daley Center, 50 West Washington, Room 2408.