On August 24, 2008, Correctional Officer Jorge Garcia was working a shift in a rover position assisting officers wherever needed for the San Joaquin County Jail. Suddenly, he received a radio transmission from a partner requesting assistance in Unit 4, a tense and dangerous unit reserved for discipline problems. As he rushed to Unit 4, Officer Garcia saw that his partner’s radio indicated “Man Down.” Then the radio went dead.
Garcia rushed to the scene and found two officers struggling with an inmate. The inmate had already attempted to tackle an officer and was resisting with officers on the ground. The inmate attempted to bite one of Garcia’s fellow officers on the arm. Garcia deployed a single, swift kick to the inmate’s head preventing the bite.
Garcia was terminated for excessive use of force and dishonesty during the investigation. The department did not believe Garcia’s account that the inmate was attempting to bite the other officer.
In its rush to condemn Officer Garcia for kicking an inmate in the head, the Department made several missteps. The department failed to provide a full Skelly packet, a serious breach of Officer Garcia’s POBR rights. The Department did two reenactments of the incident but only provided one set of photos.
The two reenactments showed radically different scenarios. When Mr. Lauro Paredes from Goyette & Associates, Inc. cross-examined the Department’s witnesses, they admitted that there had been two different reenactments, neither of which Garcia participated in. The Department should have been upfront in providing all of the photos from both reenactments so that Garcia could fully prepare his defense and the arbitrator sustained a finding against the Department for this violation.
On behalf of Officer Garcia, special use of force expert Ray Arquilla testified that Garcia’s actions were justified. He explained that an inmate bite could be deadly due to the high rate of diseases in the inmate population. The Department’s own witnesses conceded that inmate bites were frequent. One of their witnesses admitted that he had been bitten on a previous occasion and described, on cross-examination by Mr. Paredes, the extent of the health precautions the Department had him undertake.
Following the hearing, the arbitrator found that Garcia was honest during the investigation and that the Department had violated its Skelly responsibilities. The Arbitrator ordered Garcia reinstated with full seniority and significant backpay. Before he could pull on his boots and get back to work, however, Officer Garcia found out that his ordeal was not over yet.
The Department refused to honor the arbitrator’s decision. This refusal came in spite of the Association’s MOU, which clearly called for binding arbitration. The Department, unwilling to concede that they had overreacted in Officer Garcia’s case, filed a Writ to overturn the arbitrator’s decision in San Joaquin County Court.
Mr. Paredes and the team at Goyette & Associates defended against the Writ, arguing that the arbitrator had made a well-reasoned decision based upon facts in the record. In a lengthy decision, the Superior Court held that the County must honor the arbitrator’s decision. Garcia has finally been able to return to work at the Department after more than a year’s absence.