Fort Pierce Police Chief Diane Hobley-Burney answers what message firing the two officers sends to the Police Department and the community.
LAURIE K. BLANDFORD/TCPALM
FORT PIERCE — Both Fort Pierce officers fired last week are claiming they shouldn’t have lost their jobs, and one of them claims the Police Department violated state law.
Former Sgt. Brian MacNaught and former Officer Keith Holmes claim the Police Department violated their collective bargaining agreement with the city by terminating them “without just cause,” according to grievance documents sent to the city appealing their May 8 firings.
“The employer lacked just cause to terminate Sgt. MacNaught because he did not engage in any misconduct,” according to his grievance filed May 9. “Furthermore, if Sgt. MacNaught’s conduct had constituted misconduct, the severity of the discipline given was grossly excessive in light of the allegations and his employment history. The discipline is also excessive in comparison to discipline given to other employees who committed similar or more severe transgressions.”
City officials, including police Chief Diane Hobley-Burney, declined to respond to the claims because of pending litigation, said Ed Cunningham, public information officer for the Police Department.
Holmes also claims the department violated the section of the city’s agreement regarding the state law of the Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
“The Police Department violated (the collective bargaining agreement) in conducting its internal/administrative investigation of Officer Holmes because it violated and/or failed to follow the requirements of the Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights,” according to his grievance filed May 5, when Holmes and MacNaught were notified they would be fired.
According to the state law, a police department can’t fire an officer if the investigation into that officer isn’t completed within 180 days. The clock started ticking after a grand jury cleared both officers from any criminal charges Sept. 21.
However, according to case law cited by city officials, the 180-day rule doesn’t apply to complaints that originate from within a law enforcement agency, Cunningham said.
MacNaught’s union attorney couldn’t be reached for comment. Holmes’ union attorney, Holly Van Horsten, declined to comment beyond a news release issued by the Fort Pierce officers’ union last week after the firings.
“We believe this termination was politically motivated and unjust,” according to the news release. “The allegations against Officer Holmes are improper and inaccurate.”
The appeals process could take up to 60 days to get to the point of selecting an impartial mediator as part of arbitration, according to their union contracts. These days don’t include weekends or paid holidays.
The length of any arbitration depends on if either party needs more time or more information, said Kevin Browning, the city’s human resources manager, speaking in general about the process. The length also could be extended if the impartial mediator needs to be replaced, he said.
“The grievance process is for any action that may violate rules and regulations or the contract,” Browning said.
MacNaught is asking to return to work and for the following: restoration of pension benefits to what they would be if he hadn’t been fired; restoration of benefits including sick leave, holiday pay, vacation time and compensation time; pay for lost wages; and compensation for lost overtime and lost off-duty details, according to his grievance form.
Holmes is asking for his firing to be overturned and for him to be reinstated to his position with no loss of pay, benefits and seniority, according to his grievance form.
MacNaught and Holmes were fired after a seven-month investigation found they violated several department policies and made a series of tactical errors that created a dangerous situation during a traffic stop April 23, 2016, in which Demarcus Semer, 21, was fatally shot, Hobley-Burney previously said.