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Arbitration reversals eroding accountability

Aug 1, 2014 | 8 Comments


By The News-Register Editorial Board

An arbitrator did McMinnville residents a grave injustice when he ordered reinstatement of police officer Tim Heidt, whose excessive indulgence in alcohol, violence and dissembling has, in our view, been amply documented. The arbitrator doesn’t have to live with the result, which is immune from appeal, but the rest of us do.

Video evidence that didn’t surface until two years after the incident depicts Heidt, a hulking defensive tactics expert, launching an unprovoked attack on diminutive bystander Hipolito Aranda during a February 2010 traffic stop. It shows Heidt throwing him to the pavement and pummeling him, breaking his arm and two of his ribs.

So, did Heidt end up facing charges? No, Aranda did — interfering with an officer and resisting arrest. Interestingly, a jury apparently found Aranda more credible, acquitting him without benefit of the damning video.

In February 2012, Heidt got into a vacation brawl in Seaside after downing, by his own estimate, 12 or 13 drinks. According to police, he threw a disabled man across the dance floor and was tossed out by a bouncer. Outside, he got into a brawl with some of the man’s friends, then headed for home.

Mistaking another residential unit for his, he tried to force his way in, leading the terrified female occupant to call 911. While police were trying to interview him, he tumbled backward over a fence, but they gave him a professional pass on criminal accountability.

The beating video surfaced as officials were preparing to defend a civil suit filed by Aranda, and it forced them into a $295,000 payout.

Heidt’s accounts did not seem to square with the facts in either case, and he was dismissed in June 2013. A union grievance called for binding arbitration, and arbitration almost inevitably seems to go the union’s way.

In Portland, every excessive force termination in the past 20 years has been overturned. In one recent case, the city was ordered to reinstate an officer fired for shooting an unarmed man in the back.

When a citizen review board unanimously recommended termination of a captain for road rage and sexual harassment, the chief opted instead for demotion, and an arbitrator found even that excessive. When an officer was fired for smoking marijuana, driving drunk and sharing narcotics, an arbitrator concluded the proper course was offering him help dealing with medical and mental disabilities.

The local decision reflects that kind of reasoning: In the beating case, Heidt injured his hand pummeling Aranda, prompting him to file a workers compensation claim, and his memory had faded by the time he recovered enough to complete his report; in the brawl case, his credibility was clouded by extreme inebriation.

None of that rings true.

Short term, we see no viable solution. Long term, we favor taking binding arbitration off the table locally through negotiation or statewide through legislation, at least in cases where excessive force is an issue.

The police are charged with holding the rest of us accountable. We do the officers a disservice if we do not hold them accountable in return.

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Comments

11:50 am - Sun, August 3 2014
Lulu said:
Justice is not blind inside Yamhill County. It certainly isn't uniform, particularly if your job includes wearing one. Where is the outrage?
02:54 pm - Sun, August 3 2014
MrsBike said:
I have only had one contact with Officer Heidt and it was a very positive experience.

I was working a night shift at a local grocery store when an elderly lady came in several times looking for her friend she had brought to the store. On her 3rd attempt in several hours of coming in and looking for her friend I called a supervisor over. He walked the aisles looking for the friend to no avail.

We called the police. Officer Heidt and another officer showed up to help. It ends up she had Washington plates and was missing from a small beach community in Northern California. The family was alerted and it would be the next day until they would arrive. Officer Heidt arranged with the hospital for her to stay there until her family came for her. She had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I know myself and others who have had parents with this cruel disease were more than grateful for this humane outcome. (By the way, the friend was imaginary.)

I hate violence in every form, I'm not condoning any behavior that that points to that. I am reporting an incident that puts a humane spin to an ugly story.
04:09 pm - Sun, August 3 2014
Trafik said:
I, too, have had a contact with Officer Heidt and he was completely professional. And if Heidt had made a simple mistake or even a series of minor errors in judgment, I'd support his continued employment with the Mac PD.

But Mr. Heidt committed a string of egregious blunders with possibly-life-changing consequences for other innocent people. Mr. Heidt shamed himself and his city in the actions described in the above editorial. If he hadn't been a police officer, any one of these actions would've not only resulted in termination, but also would've likely resulted in a prison sentence. But Mr. Heidt got a free pass on all of it, crowned by his reinstatement to the Mac PD.

As I stated elsewhere, the sense of entitlement demonstrated by this guy and his wife is astounding. Not too long ago, a person who had shamed his city to this level would quietly leave the area, tail tucked between legs, to seek a job elsewhere.

Not Tim Heidt! Mr. Heidt evidently feels that he did nothing wrong and deserves no consequences for his choices, consequences that he routinely bestows on others as part of his job. Mr. Heidt is so sure of himself that he's holding his head up high as he demands special justice for himself--assuming that he's sober enough to hold his head up at all.

Again I ask: how does the Mac PD anticipate dealing with a citizenry who has neither confidence in nor respect for the soon-to-be-reinstated Office Heidt? Having an officer on your force who is a drunken thug and a laughingstock serves absolutely no useful purpose.

To Mr. Heidt I say this: no one wants you here. No one wants you representing this great community. No parents want you dealing with their children. No business owner--except maybe a seedy bar--wants your presence therein. In short, your time in McMinnville is over. Please move to another city and grace them with your hulking, thuggish, alcoholic and violent lifestyle.
09:13 am - Mon, August 4 2014
Lulu said:
Great letter, Trafik.
10:40 am - Mon, August 4 2014
Concerned said:
Dont judge till you know the full story. This is not the full story.
10:49 am - Mon, August 4 2014
Maryanne said:
Please enlighten us Concerned. Based on the recent articles I have read on Mr. Heidt I am pretty sure I know as much as I need to know on which to base my opinion on.
I certainly do not think highly of this individual and agree with Trafik's post 100%
11:02 am - Mon, August 4 2014
Trafik said:
Yes, what is the full story?

Did the disabled man who was thrown across a dance floor deserve it? Did the terrified woman in the vacation rental do something to earn Heidt's attempt to break down her door? Did Mr. Aranda lie after all and fabricate video evidence that a federal jury stupidly believed?

If poor Mr. Heidt has been grievously wronged, I am happy to retract my remarks. I'm sure we'll all find out the real story when Mr. Heidt files his tort action against the city.

This just keeps getting better and better.
06:01 pm - Mon, August 4 2014
Just Saying said:
Most disturbing.
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