Arbitrator rules city was justified in firing Hastings officer, who had engaged in inappropriate relationship with domestic abuse victim
An arbitrator ruled this week that the City of Hastings was justified in firing police officer Don Farrington last summer.
Exactly why Farrington had left the department wasn't known until this week, when the arbitrator's ruling was released. Details have now emerged about his termination, following the posting of that ruling online Tuesday morning.
The ruling outlines why the city fired Farrington. Essentially, he befriended a victim in a domestic abuse case and ultimately sent her a number of sexually-charged text messages. He then, the city alleged, had a bias against the woman's ex-boyfriend, and that bias showed in his police work.
When the city learned of the matter, it launched an internal investigation. Farrington was then fired in July 2011.
The situation dates back to December 2010 when Farrington was on a late-night bar check. He had gotten to know an employee at a bar, and eventually learned she was the victim of a domestic abuse case. Farrington discussed the case with the woman at the bar, and she expressed concern that police wouldn't be able to protect her from her boyfriend.
Eventually, while on routine patrol, Farrington saw the woman in her vehicle and they exchanged hellos. He then gave her his business card with his personal cell phone on it, and he encouraged her to call him anytime.
She did and the two began sending text messages to one another.
By March 2011, the texts were becoming much more frequent.
Then, on March 3, the woman and her ex-boyfriend got into an argument. The boyfriend, who has a restraining order against him, had driven away from the scene so as to not violate the restraining order. Later that day, after the two argued again, the boyfriend called police to report the possible violation.
Farrington responded and took a statement from the boyfriend. When he learned later that day that the man had called the woman, he arrested him for violating the order.
Two days later, on March 5, Farrington learned the woman was headed to a bar in Prescott, and he tried to arrange a meeting with her.
On March 7, he invited her for a ride on his motorcycle. He wanted to take a ride with her during the day, he said, so he "can see that sexy little body in the daylight."
On March 8, he wrote her a text that read: "I think you would look great in a bikini w/that petite little body of yours."
On March 10, he asked if he could see her. She apparently said "no." But later that night, Farrington was on duty and in his squad car when he drove past the woman's house. He saw a vehicle in the driveway and ran its license plate. The vehicle came back as registered to another woman. At 11:11 p.m., Farrington wrote the woman and told her to say "Hi" to her friend, who Farrington named in the text.
Farrington told the arbitrator that he ran the check on the vehicle to be sure it wasn't registered to her ex-boyfriend.
The woman, though, wrote Farrington the following morning and told her she was upset that he had been watching her house and running license plate checks on her friend. Later that evening, she texted Farrington and told him that her ex-boyfriend was out drinking, which is a violation of his court-ordered release revolving the domestic abuse case.
Farrington called one of the department's administrative support employees at home and asked her to check to be sure that was the case. When he learned it was, he went to the establishment and arrested the man for violating his court release conditions.
Just more than an hour later, Farrington texted the woman that it was "taken care of."
In the evening of March 12, he sent her a number of text messages of a sexual nature relating to his "stamina," as he put it.
Then, on March 14, when the woman expressed some difficulty in sleeping, he offered to share with her some Trazidone, a prescription sleep aid. She apparently wrote back that sleep aids don't help her, so he asked her if sex relaxes her.
The woman later tells Farrington she's not into him and he gets the message and backs off.
After March 14, the texts were less frequent in nature and less sexual. They were no longer sent after April 24, 2011.
On May 24, 2011, the woman came to the police department and filed a personnel complaint. In the complaint, she stated:
"I am afraid to change my address because officer Don Farrington has ran my girlfriend's plates while she was at my house. Also, I feel there is a conflict of interest because he has arrested my child's father, my brother and his girlfriend. I believe it's because I led him on and would not pursue a relationship with him. I believe another officer should deal with the issues."
A few days later, Farrington received a letter from Chief of Police Paul Schnell informing him of the complaint. Farrington was told he would be the subject of an internal affairs investigation.
The investigation was concluded in mid-June. On July 6, Hastings city administrator Dave Osberg advised Farrington he would be terminated. Osberg cited six reasons for the termination:
1) Inappropriate access to and use of police information; 2) Inappropriate contact with (the woman) while on duty and while acting as a police officer; 3) Offering to violate a Minnesota law for offering to supply the woman with a prescription drug; 4) Failure to report suspect maltreatment of the woman's children; 5) Unethical and unprofessional conduct; and 6) termination is the only appropriate level of discipline.
Following the termination, the Law Enforcement Labor Services union that represents police officers filed a grievance. The grievance specifically alleged that the city's action violates the union's collective bargaining agreement.
The union argued that the city's case hinges upon its belief that Farrington's interest in the woman improperly influenced him in his duties.
"If it is established that Officer Farrington did not have and was not seeking a significant personal relationship with (the woman), much of the improperly motivated conduct alleged against him falls by the wayside as, at worst, the questionable exercise of his police authority."
The union's position was that a relationship that is based upon electronic communications, like cell phone texting, cannot be viewed as a significant personal relationship. "The personal component of a relationship must necessarily involve significant face-to-face or in-person contact," the union argued.
The matter was sent to the arbitrator, Frank E. Kapsch, Jr.
Kapsch ruled this week, making the matter public.
"In reviewing and considering the record, as a whole, together with my findings ... I see a situation where, when viewed as single, isolated allegations, none of the offenses attributed to Farrington in 2011 would justify or merit discharge. In fact, I'm not certain that even collectively they would be serious enough, in total, to meet the 'just cause' standard."
What changed matters, though, was a crash in April 2010 that set forth some standards for Farrington's future employment with the city.
In April of 2010, Farrington was involved in an off-duty crash. At about 4:10 a.m., he was driving his personal vehicle in St. Paul and lost control of it, colliding with a power pole. He walked home and, two hours later, called 911 and reported he had been carjacked at gunpoint by a black male, who then fled with his vehicle.
A St. Paul police officer went to Farrington's home to take a statement. During the course of the interview, Farrington eventually admitted to the officer that there had not been a carjacking. He confessed he had crashed his car, "probably as a result of excessive alcohol consumption, and had panicked," according to the paperwork contained in the arbitrator's ruling. "He had apparently panicked because of concern over how the accident might affect his employment status as a Hastings police officer."
Farrington was charged with two misdemeanors: One for failing to stop for an accident and the second for falsely reporting a crime. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident as part of a plea agreement. He was subsequently reprimanded at the city and was given conditions of "last chance" employment.
"Looking at these issues, we see an individual who, when confronted by the consequences of his bad decision making, immediately responds by running away and lying," Kapsch wrote.
To the city's credit, Kapsch wrote, they examined the circumstances of the crash and decided Farrington exhibited "sufficient remorse and acceptance of responsibility" to merit a last chance.
It was those conditions he violated with the texting incidents. One of the "last chance" conditions that could lead to termination was: "Engagement in any conduct determined to represent bias-based policing at any time during your employment."
"I surmise that when the city reviewed the 2011 internal affairs investigation findings and looked back at the 2010 situation they came to an apparent conclusion that Farrington's past history of bad judgment and bad decision making was not an isolated event, but an ongoing problem.
"Making correct and proper 'judgments' is a critical ability in a law enforcement officer's job and bad judgments and decisions by an officer can be both financially costly and, in some circumstances, deadly. The city apparently decided, albeit reluctantly, that discharge was the only proper decision. Bad decisions incur bad consequences."
Farrington had been with the force since July 2006.