Arbitrator Reinstates Deputy Who Fatally Shot Driver; SPD Officer Fired for “Inexcusable” Twitter Posts Loses Appeal

1. A private arbitrator has reinstated a King County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was fired in 2021 after fatally shooting a man who was driving a stolen truck with a dog inside.

The deputy, George Alvarez, was driving an unmarked Yukon SUV and in plainclothes when he and his partner, Josh Lerum, began following a stolen truck driven by Black Diamond resident Anthony Chilcott.

According to a report from the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, after seeing the truck parked on the side of the road, Alvarez T-boned Chilcott’s truck with his Yukon, running it up onto some nearby boulders. When Chilcott tried to escape, the two deputies, whose clothes did not identify them as law enforcement, smashed out both of his front windows with sledgehammers, pistol-whipped him, and shot him in the head. The entire incident, from the initial pursuit to Chilcott’s death, took less than four minutes.

King County agreed to pay a $2.5 million settlement to Chilcott’s family in 2021. Then-Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht fired Alvarez, but not Lerum, saying Alvarez had escalated the situation by pulling up on Chilcott when he was stopped, sticking his hand in the truck, and “continuing to break and pull out windows” when he knew backup was on the way, resulting in “in a series of bad tactical decisions.” Alvarez, according to a 2021 article in the Seattle Times, had shot at least five people while on duty in the past, and was the subject of a previous criminal investigation for “roughing up” an informant.

A spokesperson for King County said the county was “disappointed” in the reversal and “stands by its original disciplinary decision. … Given the arbitrator’s order and consistent with our collective bargaining agreement, our Human Resources team will be working with the Sheriff’s Office to determine the next steps for this individual to safely return to service, including determining what additional training is necessary.

The decision by California arbitrator Najeeb Khoury, which reinstates Alvarez without back pay, was posted on the state Public Employee Relations Commission’s website on Monday.

In the decision, the arbitrator argues that the sheriff’s department agreed that Alvarez had failed to de-escalate the situation as he had been trained to do, but said the sheriff’s department had given Alvarez “mixed messages” by encouraging that officers use de-escalation (which the decision describes as “a relatively new concept” at the time of the 2019 shooting) while simultaneously praising the SWAT team member for being a “hunter” who caught “bad guys.”

Additionally, the arbitrator said firing Alvarez was out of proportion to his “failure to perform up to standards on one occasion” and that his decision to use force was understandable given the circumstances.

“Sheriff Cole-Tindall has discretion to determine duty assignments, and the Sheriff does not intend for this individual to return to SWAT duties,” the county spokesperson said. “Deescalation training at the county has evolved since the original incident, and the latest versions help ensure that deputies are better able to respond to situations with best practices.”

According to a 2020 study that examined hundreds of arbitration cases over 15 years, independent arbitrators overturned or reduced police discipline more than half the time, and ordered police departments to rehire officers they terminated 46 percent of the time.

Tamer Abouzeid, the director of King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, told PubliCola that the decision—which the county has no authority to overturn—highlights the need to reform state law governing arbitration. “Only the state legislature has the power to create consistent standards around police misconduct investigations and discipline, including empowering oversight agencies and department chiefs to hold officers accountable,” he said.

“The decision also highlights that the Sheriff’s Office is using an unnecessarily high burden of proof in making findings, Abouzeid continued, using the high “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard to determine whether an officer violated policy, rather than “the widely accepted ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard.” This, unlike the arbitrator’s ruling, is a matter of policy and can be changed. “While we do not know whether that would have led to a different result in this case, I hope this decision can act as an impetus for changing the burden in all administrative investigations” to a preponderance of the evidence, Abouzeid said.

2. Another police officer who was fired for his behavior, Seattle police officer Andrei Constantin, had his appeal dismissed on Tuesday after he failed to show up for his hearing in front of the Public Safety Civil Service Commission. The dismissal means that SPD Chief Adrian Diaz’s decision to fire Constantin over his “inexcusable” social media posts will stand.

The PSCSC, a three-member appointed body that hears appeals from police and firefighters who were fired, demoted or suspended, had blocked out two full days for the hearing. According to PSCSC chair Stacy Connole, who spoke briefly on Tuesday, the commission had “quite extensive discussions” about the schedule for the hearing and had tried to call, text, and email Constantin but was unable to reach him.

According to the SPD disciplinary action report explaining why Constantin was fired, the officer used an anonymous Twitter account to post dozens of “extremely unprofessional, offensive, derogatory, and entirely unacceptable” tweets that “celebrated violence against protesters, ridiculed human beings who were injured or killed, taunted the family members of deceased individuals, and publicly accused SPD of hating its employees, blamed victims of assault, appeared to celebrate a homicide, and stated George Floyd ‘got justice.’” In one case, he told the mother of an activist who was murdered, “Rest in piss bitch.”

Constantin had been the subject of at least nine other disciplinary complaints when he was fired, and received an eight-day unpaid suspension after shattering the driver-side window of someone’s car while they were sitting at a gas station.

2 thoughts on “Arbitrator Reinstates Deputy Who Fatally Shot Driver; SPD Officer Fired for “Inexcusable” Twitter Posts Loses Appeal”

  1. @ 1: this outcome is absolutely ludicrous. That arbitrator is out of her mind. Sadly, this example is why some people hate cops and call for defunding.

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