Dishonesty by Officer Requires Termination
Over the past ten years, law enforcement agencies have struggled with the impact of officer dishonesty on the ability of the officer to act as a witness in court proceedings. The dishonest officer is always subject to having their credibility impeached by their prior dishonest conduct. Agencies have an on-going responsibility to disclose information to prosecutors concerning an officer’s dishonesty before the officer testifies against a defendant in a criminal case. The prosecutor must then determine if the information is such that it must be disclosed to the defendant. The failure to disclose this “exculpatory” information may not only lead to the failure of criminal prosecutions, but can also lead to liability for officers and agencies. See, Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995); see also, Murvin v. Town of Stratford, 259 F.Supp. 2d 180 (Dist. CT. 2003).
A case from Massachusetts overturning an arbitrator’s ruling to suspend rather than terminate a dishonest officer, exemplifies a court’s recognition of the importance of officer honesty, integrity and credibility. City of Boston v. Boston Police Officer Benevolent Association, 443 Mass. 813 (MA. Supreme Judicial Ct. 2005), began when an officer, DiSciullo, who was driving the wrong-way down a one way street, stopped and spoke to the operator of a vehicle that was double-parked. According to the arbitrator, the officer’s demeanor in approaching this vehicle was extremely poor and went down from there. The situation escalated to a point where the officer arrested a husband and wife who were in the vehicle. The couple was charged with assault on DiSciullo and disorderly conduct. The charges were subsequently dismissed.
The Internal Affairs Division of the Boston Police Department conducted and investigation into this incident and concluded that Officer DiSciullo had committed 16 violations of Boston Police Department policies. Included in these violations were several acts of dishonesty including, falsifying a police report and lying when swearing out the probable cause for arrest. During the disciplinary process, an arbitrator agreed that these charges had been substantiated, but concluded that the appropriate punishment should be a one-year suspension without pay rather than the termination that the City had sought. The department appealed the arbitrator’s ruling.
In overturning the arbitrator’s ruling and determining that DiSciullo should be terminated the court cited the public policy at issue when an officer’s integrity is compromised. The court asserted: “One of the most important police functions is to create and maintain a feeling of security in communities. To that end, it is extremely important for the police to gain and preserve public trust, maintain public confidence, and avoid an abuse of power by law enforcement officials… A police officer who uses his position of authority to make false arrests and to file false charges, and then shrouds his own misconduct in an extended web of lies and perjured testimony, corrodes the public’s confidence in its police force. There is no dearth of positive law expressing the Legislature’s strong instruction that such individuals not be entrusted with the formidable authority of police officers.” The court pointed out that termination for these offenses did not require a conviction of a felony charge, the fact that the arbitrator had ruled that DiSciullo had committed these offenses was sufficient for termination.
The court concluded: “The public policy against requiring the reinstatement of police officers who have committed felonious misconduct [without a conviction] stems from the necessity that the criminal justice system appear legitimate to the people it serves. People will not trust the police — on the street or in court — unless they are confident that police officers are genuine in their determination to uphold the law. As the city reminds us, police legitimacy would be damaged severely by reports that the city continued to employ a police officer who had illegally abused his power and repeatedly lied about it under oath. Indeed, DiSciullo’s involvement in an investigation could prejudice the public against an otherwise flawless criminal prosecution.” The court then ordered the termination of this officer.