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Terminated Officer Reinstated

Posted on Sunday, March 01, 2009 at 12:00PM
Posted by Lauro A. Paredes

Vital moments in a career often happen when you are about to go off duty, and sometimes when you are wearing a Santa hat. On Dec. 24, 2006, San Joaquin County Correctional Officer Juan Barragan had worked his regular shift and a mandated overtime shift.

Officer Barragan had been cleared to leave, had stowed his gear, and had put on his 49’ners Santa hat to walk out of the detention compound.

As he was walking out of the compound, an inmate or group of inmates called for and then “mooned” Officer Barragan and other staff. When Officer Barragan saw his shift partner enter a detention barracks, he proceeded to backup his partner, even though he was off duty and could have gone home.

What happened after Officer Barragan entered the barracks styled detention housing is unclear. Two inmates accused Officer Barragan of assault, claiming that he punched and choked them.

Officer Barragan admitted that he grabbed inmates by the shirt and escorted them out of the compound. The inmates’ wild accusations were not corroborated by any officer on the scene or by any physical evidence.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department gave credence to the inmate accusations. This was in contradiction of Officer Barragan’s statement, it was not witnessed by any other officers, and the department could provide no physical evidence, pictures, or even staff recollections of any marks left on the inmates.

On this evidence, Officer Barragan was recommended for termination, and after a Skelly hearing, Officer Barragan was terminated from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department.

Goyette & Associates, Inc., represented Officer Barragan at all stages of the investigation, including Internal Affairs interview, Skelly and arbitration. This author represented Officer Barragan at his arbitration hearing in October 2008.

At arbitration we exposed a number of procedural violations and factual impossibilities that the department had relied upon to justify Officer Barragan’s termination. The in-custody witnesses against Officer Barragan directly contradicted each other on a number of important points. Further, we presented to the arbitrator instances where one or all of the in-custody inmates lied during the investigation.

In the course of preparation for the arbitration hearing, we discovered serious procedural violations of Officer Barragan’s contractual and due process rights. Among the factors the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department relied upon to justify the termination of Officer Barragan, were unsubstantiated and uninvestigated inmate allegations.

Basically, to justify their actions, the department relied on hearsay and rumor from inmates, rumors the department never bothered to investigate.

This is a serious procedural violation of officer’s rights and something that all peace officers need to be diligent against.

In December 2008, almost to the date of the original incident, Officer Barragan was ordered reinstated by arbitrator’s decision with substantial back pay. Officer Barragan expects to return to work shortly. This case illustrates the importance of law enforcement agencies respect of officers’ rights.

This victory for Officer Barragan and the San Joaquin County Correctional Officers Association, could not have occurred without the help of everyone at Goyette & Associates, Inc., particularly Paul Goyette, who mentored and assisted significantly with arbitration preparation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lauro A. Paredes is an associated attorney with Goyette & Associates, Inc., who specialize in the representation of public safety employees and their associations in numerous types of legal matters.

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