Arbitrator upholds termination

WARREN – The city’s decision to fire a veteran police officer jailed for five days after he failed to comply with terms of his probation has been upheld by an arbitrator.

On Thursday, arbitrator Mark I. Lurie released his ruling that Warren officials justly fired veteran officer Jeffrey Miller on Dec. 5 after he missed a probation violation hearing. The hearing was on a reckless operation conviction that stemmed from a drunken driving arrest in 2011.

Miller argued he was never notified of a change in the hearing date. Lurie determined there was no evidence to support Miller’s position.

Lurie’s ruling came after an arbitration hearing on Miller’s termination was held May 2 at the Warren Community Development Building. The arbitrator’s findings state that Miller violated his oath of office and police ethics.

Lt. Dan Mason of the Warren Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division said the outcome of that hearing was what the city expected. The city had cited a series of incidents dating back to October 2010 as its reasons for firing Miller. Miller was arrested three times over two years.

He was arrested on charges of domestic violence on Nov. 17, 2010. Those charges were later dismissed by a Niles judge.

Police were called to Miller’s Weathersfield home several other times between 2010 and 2011. During one incident, Miller “threatened to take his own life” and investigators found three pistols, empty beer cans and bottles, and several prescription medication bottles, Lurie noted. Miller was never disciplined after any of those incidents, Lurie said.

He was arrested Sept. 22, 2011, in Boardman by the Ohio State Highway Patrol on a charge of operating a motorized vehicle while impaired. At the time, Miller refused to take a breath test. He told then-police Chief Timothy Bowers during a pre-disciplinary hearing that he should not have been driving.

In September 2011, Miller missed work from Sept. 24 to 27. A pre-disciplinary hearing was held on Feb. 6, 2012.

A March 12, 2012, OVI charge was was reduced to reckless driving and Miller was placed on probation and fined.

On May 24, 2012, Boardman court charged Miller with violating his probation and he given a $2,500 bond. A failure to appear warrant for his arrest was issued on Nov. 13, after probation violation hearings were held on July 14, Aug 14, Aug. 28 and Sept. 10, 2012. Miller given a 28-day sentence on the probation violation. He spent the next five days in the Mahoning County jail.

“This last incident makes it clear that you have no respect for your oath of office or the laws you swore to uphold,” Bowers wrote in the letter presented to Miller in December.

Lurie ruled the alleged domestic violence incidents and the Sept. 22, 2012, crash cited by Bowers in Miller’s termination letter were ineligible reasons for Miller’s discharge because the city did not “issue progressive discipline,” meaning he was never placed on notice that his conduct was deemed serious and that its repetition would result in “the imposition of continually increasing penalty,” Lurie wrote.

Miller, who had been employed as a Warren police officer since 1995, is among three police officers Warren has terminated in the past year.

Manny Nites was terminated in 2012 after it was learned he participated in a fantasy football league while he was on duty. He previously was cited for coaching youth basketball games while on duty. Nites also appealed his termination and is waiting on an arbitrator’s ruling on that.

City officials said based on the timing and when they received Miller’s ruling, they expect to have a ruling on Nites’ termination within the next several weeks.

David Gallagher was fired in May because he was unable to perform the necessary physical activity required of the job.

Meanwhile, at the request of Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel, Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation representatives have been at the city police department this week as part of a criminal investigation centered around veteran police officer Reuben Shaw.

Shaw, who is accused of illegally towing a car to his private property without the owner’s permission, was placed on paid administrative leave last week.

Lt. Dan Mason of the Warren City Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division said earlier this week the investigation into Shaw’s activities are in BCI’s hands. He said Warren city could initiate its own internal investigation, but the two cannot overlap.

Also this week the police department has been looking into how a suspect was able to carry a gun into a police cruiser undetected on Sunday.