Hughes receiving full pay under disability law
A Public Employee Relations Board arbitrator has found Bethlehem Police Officer Christopher Hughes not guilty of disciplinary charges leveled against him by the department in June of 2009.
Hughes was charged with absence without leave, improper use of sick time, filing a false report and insubordination, stemming from an early-April incident.
Hughes said the decision supports his long held stance the department made baseless accusations in order to intimidate him.
This is what I’ve been dealing with for two years. In my opinion it’s just nonstop harassment, he said. `You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to, in my opinion, realize it wasn’t going to fly.`
Hughes was the officer who, after being brought up on the charges in question, went to then-Supervisor Jack Cunningham and the media with information about a recording of Chief Louis Corsi uttering a racial slur during a telephone call in his office. Hughes was later charged with another disciplinary action, which was dropped by way of arbitration in December.
`I don’t think they really knew what to do with me,` Hughes said. `It was pretty clear cut.`
In short, Hughes, having been denied a request for a day off on Friday, April 3, to attend a fishing trip, called in sick that day and the two subsequent days, according to the arbitrator’s decision.
Hughes saw a physician and submitted a doctor’s note indicating he missed work as the result of illness. A strep culture came back negative. The department ruled the doctor’s note insufficient evidence to justify the absence.
The insubordination charge resulted from a verbal dispute between Hughes and Lt. Thomas Heffernan over the requested personal leave and the scheduling of a conference with an assistance district attorney. The town was seeking a 30-day suspension.
PERB Arbitrator Adam Kaufman found in his decision, rendered Feb. 25, the town had not sufficiently proven Hughes had used sick time to `game the system.`
`the Town offered no evidence on the record, other than supposition based on Officer Hughes’ interaction with Lieutenant Heffernan, to support its contention that the use of sick leave was a device and canard to avoid reporting for duty,` Kaufman wrote.
The interaction with Heffernan was found to not be insubordinate because Hughes did not disobey an order.
`there is no questionOfficer Hughes acted in a contemptuous, impertinent and insolent manner during his interchange with Lieutenant Heffernan on April 2. The conduct was inappropriate and objectionable There has been no showing that an order was given to Officer Hughes and that his conduct was in defiance of contravention of such an order,` the decision read in part.
Supervisor Sam Messina declined comment, citing the case as a personnel matter, except to say the following:
`The Police Department believed it was in a strong position to pursue disciplinary action and is disappointed in the outcome. It is recognized that there is no appeal process from a hearing officer’s decision.`
Hughes had been on medical leave from the department and, this past December, was placed on 207-c leave, a state law provision that allows paid leave for police officers and firefighters who have been found to have on the job related disability or disease.
Hughes said he saw a doctor of the town’s choosing, who made the recommendation, but he declined to go into the details of the recommendation.
`He made a recommendation that I could never return to duty [in any department],` Hughes said.
Hughes will receive full pay while under 207-c, possibly until he reaches retirement age. His annual salary is $65,206.
Messina said town officials couldn’t discuss the matter.
`Mr. Hughes is on leave under general municipal law section 207-c, and I am not permitted to discuss the nature of this leave because of health and personal privacy issues,` he said.
Arbitration is continuing on the town’s taking of Hughes’ badge and gun. A decision will likely be several months in coming.