Colorado Police Officer Reinstated With Back Pay After Being Fired For Using Excessive Force and Breaking Six Department Policies

Aurora police officer James Waselkow has been reinstated with back pay after being fired for excessive use of force. Waselkow broke the orbital bone near the right eye of Carla Meza during an arrest and then failed to give her medical treatment. He was later fired after the Chief concluded he had used excessive force and did not have probable cause for an arrest after the domestic violence call.

Aurora’s Civil Service Commission has ordered fired police officer James Waselkow, accused of breaking six department policies, including using excessive force, be returned to his job and given back pay. The board said that it was “troubled” by the fact that Meza was seriously injured and that none of the officers rendered aid despite “obvious and serious injuries” to her. It also noted that Waselkow failed to report the injuries, failed to perform responsibilities for preliminary investigation and that he performed his job in an unsatisfactory manner. Yet, they ordered his reinstatement.

According to a ruling released this morning Waselkow did not use unreasonable force during the arrest of Carla Meza during a Feb. 12, 2009 domestic-violence call. The panel also determined that there was probable cause for her arrest.

“The evidence presented to us did not justify termination,” commission chairman Dave Williams said this morning in an interview.

The panel ordered Waselkow be docked 160 hours of pay and is requiring additional training “as deemed appropriate by his immediate supervisor.”

Waselkow was accused of kneeing or kicking Meza in the face as she was arrested. Meza suffered a broken orbital bone near her right eye. She later required surgery.

Waselkow was fired on June 24, 2010 by Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, who concluded that Meza had been arrested without a warrant, used physical force causing injury to the woman’s face and eye, failed to properly report his use of such force and failed to properly care for Meza after she was injured. Oates also said Waselkow had failed to fulfill his responsibility for a preliminary investigation and performed unsatisfactorily.

Waselkow insisted that he did not intentionally knee Meza in the eye and simply made a mistake in not realizing that she needed medical attention when he saw the blood on her and on his own hands. He testified earlier that it was also a mistake not to mention the injuries in his report. Notably, he also admitted that he had a “very thin” basis for probable cause in arresting Meza who was allegedly drunk.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates fired Waselkow in part due to his refusal to take responsibility in the matter.

This could have produced an interesting tort action to see if a civil jury agrees with these conclusions. However, Meza settled her lawsuit for $85,000.

Source: Denver Post and Reddit

29 thoughts on “Colorado Police Officer Reinstated With Back Pay After Being Fired For Using Excessive Force and Breaking Six Department Policies”

  1. A lot of what we think of as great institutions were built by civil service employees. There used to be a great civl service culture of professionals who conceived of themselves as civil servants. When I was in college in the 70’s, for instance, the idea of a career working for the EPA as a civl servant seemed idealist and admirable. In 1977, a GS 9 in the District of Columbia paid $17,000.

    Then for the last 30 years or so there have been a lot of attacks and aspersions on the civil service.

    A lot of times the people who are appointed by elected officials are really young, just a few years out of college, where a civil service employee of the same pay would have worked in the agency for 20 years and would have a lot more specialized knowledge. A civil servant might know 10 times as much factual information that is specialized to the agency. A lot of appointees only keep the job for two years but the civil servants usually see the agency as their employer until retirement. An appointee can distance themselves from agency problems but it is a lot harder for a long term civil servant to do so.

  2. pete

    Everything, and I mean everything, in YOUR life is controlled from D.C. This began long before Obama. Nevertheless, he continues this tradition.

    It is called totalitarianism: the complete control over every
    aspect of life.

    Intelligent people are appalled.

  3. Blouise,
    Thanks for the update. I have a hard time thinking about a police chief tabbed through the civil service process. I think of the Post Office when I think of Civil Service employees. I guess it can’t be any worse than a crooked mayor picking a friend for the job.

  4. Part of what happened in Colorado I think is that DOJ was looking for corruption in old cities — Chicago, Philadelphia, New York etc. — and not in the Western states. Apparently there are a lot of corruption issues in Colorado related to water rights too.

  5. rafflaw,

    Trying to watch a movie so forgot to type that one of the most important protections for a chief if he/she gets the job through the competitive process is that he/she is semi-protected by Civil Service from the whims and political pressures of Mayors who come and go.

  6. rafflaw,

    There are many appointed here in Ohio also (city ordinances)but, if I were a chief, I would prefer the protection of Civil Service … and as a tax payer I would know that the chief got the job through the competitive process rather than by political appointment.

    But that’s just me … I’m sure there are advantages to a qualified chief through the appointment process.

  7. Blouise,
    Thanks. I don’t think that police chiefs here in Illinois are part of the Civil Service process. At least in Northern Illinois. They seem to be appointed by the Mayors or alderpersons.

  8. rafflaw,

    Civil Service Commissions act under a set of rules established in each state and ordinances within their particular city.

    Here, in Ohio, one of the main purposes of a Civil Service Commission is to ensure that the tax payers are getting the best possible service for their dollar in that elected officials don’t fill government jobs with their relatives, friends, or contributors: (Here’s an example taken from one city … you can find many more such examples by googling Civil Service and the name of the state/city in which you are interested.)

    “No person who holds any public office, or who
    has be nominated for, or who seeks a nomination or appointment to any public office, shall corruptly use or promise to use either directly or indirectly, any official authority or influence in order to secure or aid any person in securing
    for himself or another any office or employment in the classified service, or any promotion or increase of salary therein, as a reward for political influence or service. Nor shall any person, by means of threats or coercion induce or
    seek to induce anyone in the classified service to resign his position or to waive his right to certification, appointment, or promotion.”

    Complete integrity of the appointive process, free of political pressure and favoritism for any reason, is essential to the civil service process.

    In some cities the Chief of Police gains his office through the competitive process and is under the Civil Service umbrella. In other cities the Chief of Police is appointed by the Mayor and not under the umbrella.

    The history of Civil Service is very interesting and Civil Service law is very complicated varying from state to state from city to city within each state.

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