DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Two years after they were fired for alleged harassment of another police officer, DeFuniak Springs police officers Anthony Kaiser and Rick Bobblitt have been ordered reinstated.
In a report highly critical of the officer who lodged racial discrimination charges against Bobblitt and accused Kaiser of failing as a supervisor to take action, labor arbitrator Jeanne Charles Wood ordered immediate reinstatement with back pay and benefits.
“The record evidence shows that the termination of grievants Boblitt and Kaiser were not for just cause,” Wood wrote in her order. “The penalty of termination is beyond the bounds of reasonableness and is hereby reversed.”
Wood did not completely absolve Bobblitt or Kaiser, who was a sergeant at the time of his June 2, 2015, firing.
She acknowledged that Bobblitt “violated work rules regarding the use of verbal conduct directed at or based upon another person’s race or national origin,” and Kaiser “failed to take corrective action upon witnessing such conduct.” She ordered the personnel files of both men reflect service of a five-day suspension for their actions.
In her 31-page ruling handed down Monday, Wood saved her most scathing criticism for Chuwan Boros, the Korean officer who brought the charges that led to the terminations.
She also raised questions about the “disparate treatment in the manner in which discipline has been meted out” by City Marshall Mark Weeks, and raised questions as to whether politics had entered into Weeks’ decision to fire Bobblitt and Kaiser.
Weeks did not return a phone call seeking comment.
While Boros had accused Bobblitt of calling him names or making negative references to his Asian background, Wood, having heard testimony from several Police Department employees and city residents, judged the insults were not “objectively harsh or severe.”
She found that Boros’ claim he was insulted “almost daily” was uncorroborated by witness testimony, as were several other claims he made during testimony about the way he was treated.
“I conclude that Boros is not very credible and his testimony concerning the hostility is unreliable,” she said.
She also found Boros’ record as a police officer to be spotty, and pointed out that he had trouble recollecting under oath that he had been fired twice from law enforcement positions. She also found that his testimony during the arbitration hearing contradicted on several occasions the sworn statements provided by others.
In her background summary of the case, Wood notes that Weeks had been involved in a contested election in April 2015 and that the local chapter of the Police Benevolent Association had provided a $1,000 political contribution to one of his opponents.
Kaiser testified that he was the PBA representative in DeFuniak Springs.
Boros filed his complaint against Bobblitt and Kaiser on April 2, 2015. Weeks won re-election April 14 and the internal investigation of Boros’ complaint was initiated the same day, according to testimony.
While the PBA, which represented Bobblitt and Kaiser during the arbitration hearings, claimed that the officers' firings were politically motivated, Weeks denied his political campaign had anything to do with the terminations.
“He stated that he understood the timing of the complaint so close to the election looked bad,” Wood reported. “He also admitted that he was upset by the manner in which the PBA handled the endorsement of his opponent.”
The report also noted that Weeks had failed to fire his executive assistant after she was accused twice of sexual harassment in the work place. He opted for counseling in the first instance and a reprimand on the second occasion, the report said.
“Neither (Bobblitt nor Kaiser) was given an opportunity to correct his behavior for violating what the employer believed was the same anti-harassment policy,” the report said.
Efforts to reach DeFuniak Springs Mayor Bob Campbell and interim City Manager Craig Drake for comment on Wood's report or what action city officials can or could take were unsuccessful.