Pot Smoking Police Dispatcher Must Be Rehired

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
A former police dispatcher, fired in January 2004 after officers found marijuana in his home, is one step closer to getting his job back and receiving three years of back pay from the town.

A three-judge panel of the state Appellate Court has ruled unanimously that the dispatcher, James Argenta, should be reinstated. He had held the job for 11 years before he was fired.

The Appellate Court reversed the decision of a Hartford Superior Court judge, who had sided with the town.

The Town Council has until the end of this month to decide whether to ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

If the Appellate Court ruling stands, Argenta could be entitled to back pay and would be allowed to return to work if he so chooses, according to his union.

If Argenta has collected pay from other jobs in the three years since his firing, that amount would probably be deducted from what he receives from the town, Town Attorney Christopher Bromson said Wednesday.

Argenta earned approximately $37,752 in his last year as a dispatcher, according to the town's Human Resources office.

Argenta declined to comment Wednesday, and Bromson said town officials wouldn't comment on pending litigation.

In 2003, while Argenta was working for the Police Department, an investigation - which included officers surreptitiously combing through Argenta's trash outside his Enfield home - led to police obtaining a search warrant for Argenta's home.

Argenta cooperated with officers, showing them where he kept a small amount of marijuana for personal use in the basement of his home.

Argenta admitted to investigators that he occasionally smoked marijuana recreationally but said he never used the drug outside his home, around his children, or while on duty.

He was arrested, but completed a pretrial drug education program for first-time offenders, and the charges were erased from his record.

Argenta had a spotless employment record, and the Police Department did not drug-test its dispatchers. Nevertheless, the town asserted that his conduct had violated a prohibition against town employees using dangerous drugs and that his conduct set a bad example. He was fired Jan. 12, 2004, one month after his arrest.

But Argenta and his union, AFSCME Council 4, Local 1029, appealed. A state arbitration panel ruled in his favor, saying a five-day unpaid suspension would be the appropriate punishment. The panel ruled that the Police Department lacked grounds to fire Argenta.

"The gravity of (Argenta's) offense, when balanced against his flawless work record, cannot be said to satisfy the requirement of the collective bargaining agreement," the arbitration panel said in its decision.

The town appealed the arbitration panel's ruling to Hartford Superior Court, claiming the decision ran counter to an established public policy against marijuana use.

In March 2006, Judge Jerry Wagner agreed with the town, overturning the arbitration panel's ruling.

"His position as a police dispatcher ... requires a level of conduct higher than that of the average government employee," Wagner wrote in his decision.

But this week, the Appellate Court reversed Wagner's decision, finding that Wagner went beyond the "limited scrutiny" judges traditionally employ when assessing arbitration decisions and assumed facts that were not presented to the panel.

Wagner wrote in his decision that Argenta smoked marijuana regularly and "many times."

Because Argenta bought the drug from another person, Wagner wrote, he put himself at risk of extortion by criminals - for example, if the criminals wanted information on police investigations Argenta was privy to.

Furthermore, Wagner wrote, the incident damaged the public's trust in the Police Department.

But the Appellate Court ruled that regardless of whether Wagner's assertions were reasonable, those factors couldn't be used to determine whether the arbitration panel's decision violated the law.

"It is apparent that the court engaged in improper fact-finding rather then affording deference to the facts as found by the arbitration panel," the Appellate Court said in its decision.

In such cases, courts aren't called upon to weigh the veracity of the facts found by arbitration panels, the decision states. Rather, the courts are asked to rule whether the decision that results is legal.

Kevin Murphy, the director of collective bargaining for AFSCME Council 4, said Wednesday that the decision represented a victory both for Argenta, who was represented by lawyer Stephen F. McEleney, and for the arbitration process.

Murphy said he hopes the Town Council, after years of litigation, will allow Argenta to return to work.

"If they appeal this any further, that would be a personal injustice to James. It's over. He's been vindicated," Murphy said.

Without commenting specifically on Argenta's situation, Police Chief Carl J. Sferrazza said that illegal activity by Police Department staff members sends the wrong message.

"Law enforcement officers and staff are entrusted to uphold and enforce the law, and there's an expectation from the public that those that enforce the law will obey the law," Sferrazza said.

McEleney said his client isn't looking for a settlement and just wants to return to work.

"Mr. Argenta very much looks forward to returning to serve the residents of the town of Enfield as he has so ably done prior to his termination," McEleney said.

News Hawk- User 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: Journal Inquirer
Author: Lee Sawyer
Contact: Journal Inquirer - To contact us
Copyright: Journal Inquirer 2007
Website: Journal Inquirer - Appellate Court rules Enfield must rehire dispatcher fired for smoking marijuana


New Member
Well, of course this is just a news story and I can't pretend I know the whole situation, but WHAT...... THE..... FUCK...... are paid, on-the-clock law enforcement officers doing searching the garbage of one of their own dispatchers so they can get a search warrant to bust him for simple possession? If only every time I saw that stupid ass PSA with the kindergarten-drawn dog, I saw a well put-together spot about crap like this instead, weed would be legal or decriminalized nationwide within ten years.

ten-to-one odds the poor guy let the wrong thing slip to one of his piece of shit co-workers, who reported him, and that got the whole ball rollling
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