Arbitrator says veteran’s actions warranted suspension, not termination
A Spokane police officer is getting his job back after an arbitrator determined his firing had been too harsh a punishment for the charge of conduct unbecoming an officer.
Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick fired Jason Uberuaga early last year after he used his department-issued cell phone to photograph a woman baring her breasts, then had sex with the woman in her car in a tavern parking lot. He later drove home after drinking at the bar. Uberuaga was off duty at the time.
The arbitrator ruled that Uberuaga, a 10-year Police Department veteran, was appropriately charged, but that the penalty should have been a 60-day suspension rather than termination.
Uberuaga will rejoin the police force Wednesday as a patrol officer. He had been off the force since Jan. 23, 2008.
Kirkpatrick said she wasn’t surprised by the decision.
“That’s our system of justice, and I respect that,” she said. “He (the arbitrator) sustained the charge, but not the determination of discipline.”
Uberuaga will receive about 10 1/2 months’ back pay.
The Spokane Police Guild was happy with the officer’s reinstatement.
“We just thought it was too harsh, and I think the arbitrator agreed,” said Ernie Wuthrich, union president. “He deserved discipline, but not termination.”
This is the first time Kirkpatrick’s decision to fire an officer has been overturned since her appointment in September 2006.
A decision to fire a rookie officer for violating her “you lie, you die” rule stood. She also fired a corporal for letting a convicted sex offender live in his basement and for storing the felon’s firearms.
In another case, Detective Jay Mehring was placed on unpaid leave while he was prosecuted for a felony threat to kill his wife. When Mehring was found innocent, his job and back pay were restored.
In Uberuaga’s case, the only substantiated policy violation was that he’d consumed alcohol before driving his city-assigned undercover car, Wuthrich said. At the time, there wasn’t a cell phone policy regarding pictures.
“The only thing was consuming alcohol and driving a police vehicle,” Wuthrich said. “And he never denied doing that.” Based on the investigation, “he was nowhere near legally intoxicated.”
Wuthrich delivered the news to Uberuaga on Monday.
“He’s very excited,” Wuthrich said. “The whole time he was gone, he told the chief he didn’t want to work anywhere else. He’s ready to come back and just be a hard worker.”