Arbitration panel reinstates acquitted officer Garrett Brown

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A Pittsburgh police officer who has been the subject of citizen complaints, and who was acquitted of criminal charges, should get his job back with some restrictions, an arbitration panel ruled today.

Garrett Brown, 42, will be reinstated unless the city appeals the arbitration panel's ruling, according to Assistant Solicitor Wendy Kobee. Kobee said she didn't know whether the city would do so. Precise details of Brown's reinstatement are not yet clear, but Kobee says they include a one-year probationary period with a "last-chance" agreement, under which Brown could be terminated if he faces further discipline.

Brown was fired in February 2011, just a few months after Blaine Johnston and Matthew Mazzie say Brown slammed into their delivery truck, threw coins at the window and punched their mirror when they were on their way to Children's Hospital to make a delivery. The police report tells a different story, claiming that Brown was rear-ended and tried to get the drivers to stop to exchange insurance information. That incident, which was first recounted by City Paper, is now the subject of a civil suit in federal court. Brown was charged with insurance fraud and reckless endangerment connected to the incident, but was later acquitted.

After the acquittal, Brown's effort to reverse his termination went to arbitration.

The city's collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police gives a three-member arbitration panel final decision-making power in disputes about whether the city had "just cause" to fire a police officer. Those proceedings are held in secret; only the final decision is public.

"The question gets to be [...] do the facts justify a termination of employment," FOP attorney Bryan Campbell told City Paper before the final results of the arbitration hearing. "[Brown] felt that he did a good job -- there wasn't anything that happened on the job that disqualified him from being a police officer. He was in the traffic division for a long time and he was one of their best officers."

Mazzie and Johnston were both subpoenaed and testified before the arbitration panel last week, according to their attorney, Thomas McClain.

The panel ruling on Brown's termination included: Robert Swartzwelder, who represented the FOP; Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson, who represented the city; and Elliot Newman, who served as the neutral representative. It's possible to appeal the panel's decision within 30 days of the official ruling, but both sides say an appeal would be an uphill battle.

"I can respect the decision of the arbitrator," says Kobee, the lawyer who represented the city's position that Brown was rightfully fired. "I might not have reached the same conclusion [...] it was a thoughtfully rendered decision."

Brown will receive back pay from May 21, which is after he was acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing.

Brown's attorney could not be immediately reached for comment, nor could representatives of the Bureau of Police or city. We'll have further updates as they become available.

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