Candidates for the job of Omaha mayor can expect pointed questions about their positions on police oversight during their campaign stops, a group of concerned citizens said Thursday.
Members of Black Men United, Keep North Omaha Safe, Omahans for Justice and the Progressive Research Institute called Thursday for the elimination of arbitration when an Omaha police officer is disciplined. They spoke outside the Omaha Police Department Headquarters, where two officers have returned to work after arbitrators overturned their firings.
Police Officers Aaron Pennington and Jackie Dolinsky were fired for their participation in the beating of Robert Wagner as he was resisting arrested outside the Creighton University Medical Center on May 29, 2011. Both challenged their firings before an arbitrator, which is allowed under the police union contract.
“Under the Omaha police union contract, the arbitration process is completely secret,” said Willie Hamilton of Black Men United. “We cannot know what evidence the city's lawyers made in defense of the two firings or the details of the arbitrator's reasoning.”
Hospital surveillance videotape of Wagner’s arrest sparked community outrage and led then-Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes to fire Dolinsky and Pennington for using excessive force. The police union has said Hayes’ actions were politically motivated because the chief didn’t act until after the surveillance video was released to the public.
Wisconsin-based arbitrator Sharon K. Imes said city attorneys did not submit persuasive evidence that Pennington, the officer most recently reinstated to the force, used excessive force.
Hamilton said the arbitrator ruling undermines discipline and accountability in the police department.
“Two officers who committed completely unjustified use of force, documented by video evidence, are now back on the force,” he said. “Every officer who is fired now knows that choosing the arbitration process will likely win reinstatement.”
Wagner has a pending federal lawsuit against the city and a number of police officers, alleging that his civil rights were violated during the arrest.
He was sentenced to 60 days in jail for a misdemeanor attempted assault on Officer Scott Zymball. Wagner was found guilty of throwing a punch at Zymball.
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