Arbitrator's ruling says Sgt. Graves did not break protocol
A Milwaukie police sergeant fired at the end of 2010 for rushing to help a suicidal woman in Clackamas County Sheriff's Office jurisdiction has been reinstated with paid back wages after a long battle between the city and police union.
Sgt. Robbie Graves was dismissed after a call in October 2010 in which he left city limits to help a friend who was distraught. The city contended that Graves broke protocol for handling such emergencies.
While on duty on Oct. 4, 2010, Graves received a 9 p.m. call on his personal cell phone from Teddie Penhollow, with whom he had an affair. Penhollow told Graves that she wanted to go to sleep and never wake up, so he immediately drove to her house outside of city limits.
Graves had several reasons for not calling dispatch until about 20 minutes later. Penhollow had also told Graves that she hadn't done anything, and it's not typical practice for Milwaukie officers to tell their supervisors every time they assist on a call in the 82nd Avenue area, so Graves thought he could take a quick break to check on the situation of his 'really good friend.'
He arrived at Penhollow's house a few minutes later, finding the door locked and receiving no response after pounding on the door.
Worried that sheriff's deputies and medics would arrive too late to help due to short staffing, Graves called in a friend of Penhollow's who had a key to the house - a common practice for police to call to avoid having to force doors open.
After a few more minutes, Graves determined that Penhollow was unresponsive and called for medical aid.
Graves notified the other sergeant on duty that he wouldn't be able to finish his shift and spent the night at the hospital where Penhollow recovered from an overdose of sleeping pills.
It was determined that Penhollow's attempted suicide was not caused by Graves' affair, which had ended several months earlier.
Called for help
The latest fight between Milwaukie officials and the city's police union again required the intervention of an arbitrator through the state of Oregon's Employment Relations Board. Without any prior administrative leave, on Dec. 27, 2010, the city dismissed Graves, a veteran officer hired by Milwaukie on Aug. 31, 2000.
After formal hearings in July, the city was forced to rehire him on Sept. 30, 2011.
'There is no evidence that (Graves') actions ... put Ms. Penhollow's life in jeopardy. He followed the generally understood procedure when dealing with a potential suicide call,' concluded arbitrator Nancy E. Brown in her report.
In both cases, Larry Kanzler, who served as Milwaukie's police chief from October 1999 through June 2008, provided evidence that bolstered the police union's arguments. Kanzler said that it had long been acceptable for officers to leave the city during their lunch breaks, and that the union and city had not developed their mission statement as a basis for disciplinary action.
The city unsuccessfully argued that Graves failed to 'protect life' by responding to the emergency call himself.
'If for the sake of argument (Graves) had called immediately for medical assistance upon receiving Ms. Penhollow's call, it would have been necessary for law enforcement officers to clear the scene so that the medical team could have entered the premises,' Brown said.
Money still flowing into fight
Milwaukie spent a total of $53,850 in police labor negotiation and arbitration during the past year.
For the current fiscal year, the city is required to pay two thirds of the arbitration costs related to the Graves case, a total of $5,332 from the $8,000 total.
Milwaukie also had to pay Graves for the nine months he was unemployed at his more than $70,000 annual salary, plus about $20,000 in benefit costs.
'In our view they've paid close to $200,000 fighting for claims that the arbitrator determined to be completely unsubstantiated,' said police union attorney Daryl Garrettson.
The two sides are returning to the negotiating table to renew a two-year agreement that expires June 30. The most recent contract also required an arbitrator's intervention and was last summer applied retroactively to a year of negotiation without a contract.
Police Association President Jon Foreman has raised concern that the city's 0.5 percent pay scales above market average would allow nearby cities to raise police compensation to a point where Milwaukie can no longer compete for new recruits or transfers.
Less than six weeks after an arbitrator ruled in the city's favor on pay and benefit scales, the Milwaukie Police Employees Association sent a formal complaint Aug. 2 to the Oregon Employment Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices. The complaint alleges that the city is not following its past practice of allowing officers to leave city limits, and the state finding on that case is still pending.
Graves was reprimanded for accessing criminal records of Ken Colorie, Penhollow's ex-boyfriend, on the Portland Police Data System in 2009 and 2010. Portland prohibits the dissemination of criminal records, but Milwaukie's rules go further, also prohibiting access for non-law-enforcement reasons.
Graves was concerned that Colorie was a 'cop hater' and a potential threat. But Graves was neither involved in an active case nor notifying fellow officers of his use of confidential databases. The state's designated arbitrator determined that Graves violated Milwaukie's policy but that he didn't disseminate the records.
'I concur with the city's argument that it is the Milwaukie (police) policy that governs,' Brown said.