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YOUNGSTOWN 2 fired cops petition to get jobs back



Published: Tue, July 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The two officers could file another lawsuit if the arbitration is unsuccessful.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Two former city police officers, fired last week on the grounds they violated conduct rules, are fighting to win back their jobs.

Christopher Lombard and Mark Rakocy filed grievances Monday against the city, protesting their termination, said Atty. Sarah Thomas Kovoor of Warren. They want to be reinstated to their jobs, with pay for the time lost while off the job.

The matter will be heard by an arbiter, who will determine whether the city was right or wrong to fire them.

If they lose with the arbiter, the men will probably file a lawsuit in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, arguing that their civil rights were violated, Kovoor said.

"Basically, we have two bites at the apple -- one with the arbiter and one in court," Kovoor said.

Lawsuit pending

Lombard, 33, and Rakocy, 34, already have a civil lawsuit pending against the city and former police chief Richard Lewis, who has retired. That suit says they were defamed and targeted for selective prosecution in a criminal case last year.

The officers were accused of roughing up and robbing Thomas Cole of Struthers in the restroom of The Pulse bar on Market Street in March 2001. A common pleas court jury cleared them, though, after a trial earlier this year.

Police Lt. Robin Lees said that acquittal doesn't prevent the department from taking action on its own. He said administrative disciplinary procedures aren't held to the same burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt as in criminal trials.

"While their actions didn't rise to the level of a criminal conviction, we still think they were wrong on that day," Lees said.

Curious timing

Kovoor said the timing of their firing is curious, since it comes just about a month after Lombard and Rakocy filed their lawsuit.

"I can't say it was retaliation because I don't know that," Kovoor said. She said, however, that retaliation would probably be one of the grounds for another suit if arbitration is unsuccessful.

In their termination letters, the officers were advised that their actions with Cole violated departmental rules requiring officers to exemplify high standards of integrity, trust and morality.

But Kovoor wondered why the department waited so long to act. Officials could have initiated the hearing process when Cole's complaint was filed, or when the officers were indicted by a grand jury, she said.

Lees said the department chose to wait until after an arbiter ruled on back pay and other issues raised by Lombard and Rakocy after their acquittal. They wanted back pay for time they spent suspended from the department awaiting trial.

Lombard won his grievance in May; Rakocy lost his earlier this month.

"We waited for a conclusion to that action, and then we started our own proceedings. That's it; end of story," Lees said.

bjackson@vindy.com




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