City reveals 47 arbitration decisions involving Philadelphia cops

Posted: December 24, 2010

IT WAS a Saturday night in July 2001 when police officer Tyrone W. Randall grew agitated because he couldn't find his girlfriend.

He allegedly left threatening messages on her cell phone: "Where the f--- you at ho? . . . I'm gonna stump your f---ing heart out of your f---ing chest you f---ing b----," one said.

When she returned home from a barbecue, Randall allegedly punched her with a closed fist in the face and ribs, and put his hand around her neck. She went to Frankford Hospital for treatment and reported the assault to police. A police sergeant, who heard the phone messages, said it was Randall's voice and noted bruises on the woman's right eye and rib cage.

Randall was charged with simple assault, terroristic threats, stalking, harassment and other charges. A week later, the woman told detectives that she wanted to recant her testimony. Randall was not convicted.

A month after Randall was charged, the Police Department fired him. But he fought back through the arbitration process - and won.

In July 2005, he got his job back, including lost wages and seniority, and the record of his dismissal was expunged from his personnel file.

The Daily News could not find a working phone number for Randall last night. Randall retired from the police force in 2007 - the same year that the city paid him $245,049, a sum that included $189,271 in lost wages and his $55,778 annual salary, city payroll records show.

The Randall case was one of 47 made public yesterday after the Daily News won a year-and-a-half legal battle to obtain police grievance arbitration decisions. Common Pleas Judge Paul P. Panepinto ruled in favor of the Daily News and the city yesterday, which also sought release of the records.

The 47 cases make up the first wave of nearly 200 arbitration decisions expected to be released by the city solicitor.

These cases offer a snapshot of the contentious, sometimes mind-boggling, decisions that enable police officers, some accused of serious crimes, to get their jobs back - or suspensions overturned - and win thousands of dollars in back pay and lost overtime.

The arbitration cases involve an assortment of allegations of wrongdoing - everything from theft and assault to hobnobbing with drug dealers and driving drunk.

"This is a tremendous victory for the public's right to know," said Daily News editor Michael Days. "We strongly believe that citizens are entitled to know about alleged wrongdoing of police officers, the disciplinary action taken against them and whether the disciplinary action was upheld or overturned through the arbitration process."

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, said last night that he was in the middle of a Christmas celebration and declined to comment.

Of the 47 arbitration decisions released so far, the officers won 26, the city won 11 and the arbitrator made a split decision in 10.

The Daily News' legal fight to obtain arbitration decisions began in summer 2009, when reporter Wendy Ruderman submitted a request to the city under the right-to-know law to review all arbitrations since 2005. The city planned to release redacted copies of 187 decisions, but the FOP objected and filed a lawsuit to bar the release.

The FOP argued that the documents contained sensitive and personal information about the officers, including home addresses, names of family members and schools their children attend.

In September 2009, Judge Idee C. Fox ruled in the FOP's favor. The city and the Daily News appealed to Commonwealth Court – and won.

But on Dec. 17, the FOP again filed suit in Common Pleas Court, seeking an injunction. The FOP argued that the arbitration decisions contain "highly inflammatory and scandalous allegations" against officers that, if released, would violate the cops' privacy rights and damage their reputations, especially if the allegations ultimately were proved untrue. The union also argued that arbitration hearings are closed to the public and the decisions are the "private property" of both the city and FOP.

The FOP brought the legal action on behalf of its members and two officers, identified in court filings only by their initials, "J.D." and "J.H." Their cases were not among the first batch released.

In J.D.'s case, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey fired the officer after criminal investigators found that after seeing his estranged wife being dropped off at home in an unknown car, J.D. pushed her to the ground and fired a shot at the rear of the vehicle.

J.D. then allegedly pointed a gun at his wife's face and threatened to kill her unless she opened the house door. He then fired a shot over her as she crouched to avoid the bullet.

When police arrived, J.D. allegedly told his wife, "If you open your mouth, I'll put two in your head."

Criminal investigators found a spent shell casing fired from J.D.'s pistol and lead fragments in the damaged rear taillight of the car that J.D. allegedly fired upon. Prosecutors filed criminal charges against J.D. and his wife obtained a temporary protection-from-abuse order.

On Oct. 15, an arbitrator ordered the city to reinstate J.D., with a 30-day suspension."[J.H. and J.D.] will have intimate details of their private lives held out for public shame and embarrassment" FOP attorneys argued.

Daily News attorney Amy B. Ginensky of Pepper Hamilton argued that the FOP wants the court to "immunize the decisions from public scrutiny."

"The public deserves to know the whole story, and the city needs to be able to share it," Ginensky wrote.

In September 2001, police officer Robert J. O'Brien was accused of pointing a loaded gun at a 16-year-old boy who was a member of the Police Explorers, a program geared to high school students interested in a law-enforcement career.

The boy told investigators he was was sitting in O'Brien's truck at the Police Academy. The teen reached over to change the radio station from the passenger seat.

O'Brien then pulled out a loaded gun and pointed it at the boy's chest and said, "Don't touch the f---ing radio," the boy later testified.

The teen quickly changed the radio station back to its original position.

Another Explorer outside the car said he saw O'Brien pull his Glock out and point it at the boy's head.

O'Brien denied that the incident occurred, but was found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment of a person. He was sentenced to two years probation. The Police Department fired him in October 2003.

The union filed a grievance, however, arguing there was no just cause for his dismissal. The union contended that the alleged victim said O'Brien pointed the gun at his chest, but the witness testified he pointed the gun at the boy's head.

"The union concludes that this case is a matter of credibility," according to the March 2007 arbitration decision.

The arbitrator ruled that O'Brien's criminal conviction supports the city's decision to fire him.

"Pointing a gun at a minor who changed a radio station readily qualifies as 'conduct unbecoming' a police officer," the arbitrator wrote. "The city has no obligation to tolerate this type of behavior."

O'Brien could not be reached for comment last night.

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