Termination of a police officer was an appropriate disciplinary action based on the seriousness of his intoxicated off-duty behavior, which was videotaped and aired on YouTube, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled. The court affirmed the circuit court decision reinstating the original disciplinary action, which had been modified by the civil service commission to a 30-day suspension.
The off-duty police officer admitted that he was intoxicated when he approached a group of men outside a bar and requested that they quit blowing marijuana smoke in his face. The officer produced his police badge and uttered obscenities and a racially offensive epithet to the men. During the interaction, he was filmed in a video recording; he acknowledged the camera and even waved to it. The video was shared publicly on YouTube.
The police department terminated the officer based on his violation of three department regulations: engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer; engaging in personal conduct which, if brought to the attention of the public, could result in justified criticism of the officer or the department; and being intoxicated in public view.
At the civil service commission hearing, the police chief testified that the officer’s behavior called into question his ability to perform his function in an unbiased and impartial manner because it indicated a predisposition to prejudice. He also testified that the behavior had a thoroughly embarrassing and negative impact on the morale of the law enforcement community.
The commission upheld the violation, but reduced the disciplinary action from termination to a 30-day suspension. When the police department appealed the commission’s decision, the circuit court reinstated the termination. The police officer sought review.
Upon review, the appeals court noted that the facts were undisputed that the officer engaged in the conduct in violation of the three department regulations as charged.
“Considering the fact that these are three separate and severe violations, the reinstatement of [the officer’s] termination was not clearly against the preponderance of the evidence,” the court held. “Any single offense could have resulted in such an action, and the cumulative impact is reflected in the circuit court’s decision, which we affirm in all respects.”
Edgmon v. Little Rock Police Dept., Ark., No. CV-12-964 (Sept. 4, 2013).
Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.