Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes has begun the process of firing two officers involved in the controversial arrest of a local man in May, The World-Herald has learned.
While city officials have declined to identify the officers, multiple people with knowledge of the investigation identified them as Aaron Pennington and Jackie Dolinsky.
Both were placed on administrative leave at the beginning of September and informed of the chief's decision to pursue their termination.
A security video shows police forcefully taking Robert A. Wagner, 35, into custody outside Creighton University Medical Center on May 29. After the footage became public, outraged community activists raised concerns about the officers' use of excessive force.
Both Pennington and Dolinsky, along with their legal representatives, are scheduled to participate in a closed due process hearing with city human resources officials next week.
Human resources officials will then determine whether they concur with Hayes' decision. If they do, the officers' firings would become official, though the officers could appeal under provisions of the city's contract with the police union.
Dolinsky has served with the department since 2007, Pennington since 2006.
Video of the incident shows a group of officers taking Wagner into custody after he allegedly refused orders to leave the hospital, then punched another officer in the head as he was being handcuffed.
At one point in the approximately 5-minute clip, an officer kicks Wagner repeatedly while several officers pin him on the ground. Officers also used a Taser to subdue Wagner.
J. William Gallup, Wagner's attorney, praised Hayes' decision.
“I wanted to publicly commend the Police Department chief for doing what I think is the proper thing,” Gallup said, adding he hoped the move would end some community concerns that potential brutality cases are being covered up. Wagner has filed a formal complaint about the incident with the department's internal affairs unit.
Community activists cited the incident as evidence that city officials should revive Omaha's dormant public safety auditor position.
City Councilman Ben Gray said Tuesday that he's researching how to place a measure on the ballot that would add a provision to the City Charter creating a public safety auditor department. Gray said he has sought advice from the city's legal department.
Firings of police officers are infrequent.
Former Police Chief Thomas Warren recommended terminating Officer David Erickson, a six-year veteran, in 2007 after he allegedly shocked a handcuffed man with a Taser 10 times. Erickson later resigned. Warren fired Officer Randall Eddy in 2004 after he tried to buy sex from an undercover officer posing as a prostitute.
While the video prompted calls for more oversight into police internal investigations, Hayes has said command officers immediately flagged the incident for review. Hayes formally launched an internal investigation days later.
"I started an internal investigation because there was something on that tape that disturbed me," Hayes told The World-Herald earlier this month.
City Prosecutor Marty Conboy reviewed the tape of Wagner's arrest and declined to charge the officers involved. Conboy later said he continued to review the incident as new information came to light.
Under the police contract, officers can be disciplined for offenses including "abusive or improper treatment to a person in custody" unless the action was necessary for self-defense, to protect the lives of others or to prevent a suspect's escape.
Discipline can include a written reprimand, suspension without pay, demotion or firing. Discipline must typically be imposed within 100 calendar days of when the alleged violation occurred.
Dolinsky and Pennington both would have 10 workdays from the date officials formalized their terminations to appeal — either to the City Personnel Board or an independent arbitrator. Disciplinary actions are not made public under the terms of the contract, unless they are appealed.
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