Owasso officer's return would pose 'special risk'
BY DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2013
1/10/13 at 7:32 AM
An arbitrator's decision to reinstate an Owasso police officer who is accused of elbowing a Collinsville man in the face during the man's arrest violates Oklahoma public policy, a Tulsa County judge found Wednesday.
Tulsa County Associate District Judge Dana Kuehn found that reinstating Lt. Mike Denton would pose "a special risk of injury, physical and psychological, to citizens and, if he is allowed reinstatement, the department will be faced with explaining why Owasso allows abusive conduct by its officers, which is against the law."
The city has released police videos in which Denton can be seen stepping on the head, stretching the handcuffed arms and elbowing the face of a Collinsville man who was arrested on a public intoxication complaint June 30, 2011.
Denton was fired in November 2011 because his actions violated the Owasso Police Department's use-of-force policy, according to the city.
However, arbitrator Edward Valverde ruled in June that Denton should be reinstated, saying that although the officer used unreasonable and unnecessary force, his actions "did not rise to the level of excessive force within the meaning of existing case law."
Valverde reduced the discipline from firing to a written reprimand and ordered the city to reinstate Denton with back pay and benefits.
Instead of allowing Denton to rejoin the force, the city filed a lawsuit July 16 in Tulsa County District Court challenging Valverde's reinstatement order.
Kuehn found Wednesday that Denton engaged in conduct as a police officer that was contrary to law and that the conduct was "inextricably related to his employment duties."
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge James Payne dismissed a lawsuit filed by three current or former Owasso police officers who claimed to have suffered financial losses and humiliation as a result of the temporary suspension of the department's defensive tactics program.
The program was suspended in the wake of the controversy surrounding Denton's firing.
Payne ruled Monday that even if the allegations of Jarod Mitchell, Darryl Jones and Lem Mutii are taken as true, they still did not demonstrate the sort of adverse employment action that would establish a First Amendment retaliation violation.
The three plaintiffs alleged that they were retaliated against because of their "public employee union activities" and because of their testimony at a March arbitration hearing involving Denton.
Their lawsuit said that after the arbitration hearing was concluded in late March, Owasso Police Chief Dan Yancey - also named as a defendant in the federal case - temporarily suspended the defensive tactics program.
However, Payne ruled this week that the three plaintiffs did not allege any change in their conditions of employment other than the temporary suspension of the defensive tactics program, which Payne wrote was not accompanied by a change in the plaintiffs' hours, compensation or benefits.
Payne noted that the three did not allege a pattern of harassment or other improper actions by Owasso or Yancey.
Owasso City Attorney Julie Lombardi said the city is "very pleased" with both rulings.
Lombardi said Mitchell and Jones are still with the Owasso Police Department but that Mutii has resigned.
Original Print Headline: Officer's reinstatement reversed
David Harper 918-581-8359
A photo from video shows Owasso police officer Lt. Mike Denton elbow Bryan Spradlin during his arrest.