Suspended Tulsa officer gets some pay, old job back
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
10/02/12 at 2:00 PM
Correction: A Tuesday Tulsa World story incorrectly stated how much Capt. Paul Fields was asking in damages in a lawsuit against the city. An amended complaint asks for an unspecified amount in damages. This story has been corrected.
A Tulsa police captain who refused to attend a "Law Enforcement Appreciation Day" at the Islamic Society of Tulsa will receive half of the pay that was withheld while he was suspended and his old assignment back following an arbitrator's ruling last week.
The arbitration was the result of an appeal by Capt. Paul Fields and the Fraternal Order of Police for the two rules violations Fields allegedly committed by refusing to attend the March 4 event. Fields was suspended 40 hours without pay for violating the department's rule on being obedient and another 40 hours for violating a rule on conduct unbecoming an officer.
In February, Deputy Chief Daryl Webster notified employees of the event and asked those who planned to attend to RSVP. The next day, an email from Fields' supervisor stated he was "directed by (Webster) to have representatives from each shift" attend the event.
Fields said in an email in response that he took "exception to requiring officers to attend this event," saying requiring attendance at the Islamic Society of Tulsa was "in direct conflict with my personal religious convictions." He stated in the email that it was his intention to not comply with the "directive."
The impartial arbitrator, Fred Blackard, wrote in his findings, issued Sept. 27, that it was not clear in the emails or in subsequent interviews and testimony with Fields and his superiors that attendance at the event was a direct order; therefore, he could not have violated the obedience rule as one part of the disciplinary-action claims.
"Absent a conclusion that City issued a clear order, City did not have just cause to take action against (Fields) for violation of the provision," Blackard wrote.
Fields was transferred from the Riverside Division to the Mingo Valley Division in February for failure to comply with the order. Blackard ordered Fields "immediately transferred back to his former assignment at Riverside Division."
The day after Fields sent the email declaring that he would not attend the event, Webster sent Fields a memo that urged him to reconsider and said that "voluntary participation is desirable." Fields responded by saying that after discussing the matter with his attorney, he was "comfortable in my original response to the matter."
The spat began to receive media attention locally and nationally, the initiation of which Blackard attributed to Fields' attorney.
Blackard allowed the second part of the suspension - related to "conduct unbecoming an officer" - to stand, saying that when considering the whole of Fields' actions, "they convince me of a pattern of behavior that clearly was unbecoming an officer of (Fields') rank and stature."
In reaching that conclusion, Blackard said Fields did not properly express his concerns up his chain of command as Tulsa Police Department rules and regulations address.
Blackard also said Fields remained steadfast when Webster "offered (Fields) a way out" by sending him a memo explaining his position.
"The passage of less than an hour from the receipt of a three-page explanation of City's position along with an appeal to reconsider (before Fields responded) raises a strong inference that (Fields) was not interested in resolving the problem, even under terms that fully respected his religious beliefs," Blackard wrote.
Considering those actions, Blackard wrote that the 40-hour suspension related to the conduct unbecoming an officer rule "is not excessive, unreasonable, or an abuse of discretion."
On Feb. 23, Fields sued Webster, claiming that Webster retaliated against him and singled him out for disparate treatment because of the stance he had taken. On March 23, Fields filed another petition, adding the city of Tulsa and Police Chief Chuck Jordan to the lawsuit.
The suit, asking for unspecified damages and attorney fees, is pending in federal court.
Original Print Headline: Officer to get some pay, old job back
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
Capt. Paul Fields