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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Maumee fights order to rehire fired officer

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The city of Maumee is challenging a recent arbitrator's report that said the Maumee Police Division should rehire an officer terminated for pointing a gun at himself and other officers in the police station.

The city filed a motion last week in Lucas County Common Pleas Court that contests the findings on the grievance case of Jeff Strzesynski, fired from the police department in February. The arbitrator said Mr. Strzesynski, a 12-year veteran of the department, should be rehired and suspended without pay for 180 days.

The arbitrator, Dennis Byrne of Munroe Falls, Ohio, said Mr. Strzesynski's actions were serious enough to deserve termination, but the police department treated him unfairly because it suspended - not fired - other officers with similar behavioral problems. The arbitrator's report said, "There was a breakdown in discipline throughout the entire department" regarding the proper handling of firearms.

Michael Angelo, an attorney for the city, filed a motion asking the court to overturn the arbitrator's decision. Mr. Angelo argues that the arbitrator's decision to lessen Mr. Strzesynski's punishment was based on claims of "disparate treatment," which is not part of the labor contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police union. In his report, the arbitrator said the unequal treatment of officers "violated the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement."

In addition to ruling on Mr. Strzesynski's grievance, the arbitrator's report describes several incidents in Maumee's detective bureau that show "the social rules that govern the behavior of colleagues toward each other seem to have given way."

Mr. Strzesynski admitted to pulling his gun in the police station and said many members of the department "have pulled their guns in jest," according to the arbitrator's report.

Other "unusual" actions that officers were not disciplined for include an officer rigging a computer to automatically show pornographic Web sites and an officer sending "derogatory" e-mails from a co-worker's computer.

"The descriptions given of interplay between the detectives at the work site is unusual by any standard," the arbitrator wrote. "They played practical jokes on each other, used profanity about each other's families, made fun of each other, belittled each other, head slapped each other, tackled each other, and 'went hard at each other.'‚óŹ"

Mr. Angelo, who has served as attorney for Maumee for almost 20 years, said the city has one of the most well-run police departments he has ever seen.

"I think the arbitrator was way off base, and I think he based a lot of his statements on suggestions not supported by the evidence," Mr. Angelo said.

"His comment that there is a general lack of discipline in the department is just absurd."

Contact Rachel Zinn at:

rzinn@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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