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Possible rehiring of fired Hubbard Township officer draws criticism

Judge orders arbitration on Michael Orr’s grievance

HUBBARD — Township trustees will remain quiet on the status of a fired officer until an arbitrator rules.

After some residents voiced concern over the potential rehiring of former officer Michael Orr, Trustee Bill Colletta issued a news release Thursday that focused on negativity targeting the department. On Monday, trustees continued the discussion by addressing its arbitration process.

“We’re actually not at liberty to make any comments on the situation,” Trustee Rick Hernandez said. “It’s a pretty delicate situation. I think all of the trustees would agree to that.”

Orr’s standing with the department has been ongoing “over the last two years.”

“We should be coming to an end of this shortly, within the next month,” Colletta said.

Orr, a Liberty resident, was hired as a patrolman in 2006 and was placed on sick leave after an October 2021 incident at a truck stop. He was fired in January 2022 when trustees voted unanimously to terminate his employment.

Orr filed a grievance Jan. 19, 2022. An arbitrator overturned the discharge and ordered Orr to be reinstated, according to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court documents.

“He was terminated once, and we lost the arbitration and we were required to bring him back,” Trustee Jason Tedrow said Monday. “Upon his return, we immediately put him on leave again and then terminated him again, so he never went back on the road at that point.”

The township was not able to say how long Orr was on leave after the first arbitration process. A judgment entry from Judge Andrew D. Logan’s courtroom suggested that Orr was discharged again April 21.

“On April 21, 2023, I was informed by Chief (Ron) Fusco to report to the HTPD whereupon at about 11:54 a.m. I received a letter informing me that my employment with HTPD had been terminated,” Orr wrote in a second grievance report dated April 24, 2023. “This discipline is without just cause.”

BODY CAMERA VIDEOS

The truck stop incident, which resulted in Orr being placed on leave in October 2021, was in reference to his alleged conduct with a truck driver during a civil matter at Flying J, off North Main Street at Interstate 80.

An officer’s body-camera video shows the driver holding onto his driver’s license, and Orr trying to get it out of his hands. Orr then touches the truck driver’s arm with his handcuffs, the video shows.

Fusco, who was a captain at the time, said an outside agency conducted the investigation. Hernandez said that Orr could be seen in a body-camera video hitting the truck driver with his handcuffs, after yanking the driver’s license from the driver’s hand.

“The township did have to pay up for that,” Hernandez said Monday. “Our insurance handled some of that, but it did cost the township. And also, there was another altercation with a female that had been brought to our attention. So those were some incidents that caused that (firing) in the first place.”

Another incident was brought to light after a woman filed a complaint with the department about her arrest. The arrest took place before the Flying J incident, and officials did not, at the time, publicly cite the incident as reasoning behind Orr being placed on leave shortly afterward.

On Sept. 10, 2021, Orr arrested the woman, of Sharpsville, Pa., for criminal trespass and disorderly conduct at her mother’s residence.

Orr was dispatched to 3368 Highland Drive regarding an unwanted woman who refused to leave the residence, according to a police report. Orr made contact with her mother, who advised that the arrestee was drunk and would not leave as she was asked.

The woman was found sitting in her mother’s pickup truck that was parked in the driveway of the vehicle. She was asked to gather her belongings, a friend was called, and Orr gave her a choice to leave with her friend or be arrested.

Body-camera video showed Orr asking the woman to gather her belongings numerous times, however, she continued questioning the incident and the need for police presence.

Irritated with the woman who “stalled” in gathering her things, as stated in the report, Orr placed her under arrest.

The woman was handcuffed and placed in a cruiser, while repeatedly asking why she was being arrested. “(The woman) refused to make any effort in completing her task,” the report noted.

After escorting her to the township police station, body-camera footage showed officers re-cuffing the woman to transport her to the Trumbull County jail.

Officer Jeff Poling, who was in training at the time, told the woman “If they’re too tight, just let me know.”

Orr responded, “They can never be too tight on a female,” as the woman began to complain about the fitting, the video showed.

“Can you stick your finger in there?” Orr asked Poling.

“Yeah,” Poling said.

“That is way too loose, keep going,” Orr instructed him.

The woman then told the officers, “Please stop, that hurts. What you’re doing is hurting me.”

Orr then directed the woman to stop turning her body and said, “You’re causing your own pain.”

When escorted to a cruiser for transportation to the county jail, Orr told the woman to sit sideways in the backseat of the car, so as not to cause more pain to her wrists.

Colletta said Monday that the second administrative leave was recommended by Fusco following an investigation.

COURT JUDGMENT

The township’s legal counsel claimed that Orr, and the Fraternal Order of Police as his legal representative, failed to file the grievance in a timely manner. The FOP argued that Orr submitted his grievance report form on time — within five days of his termination.

A judgment entry filed Jan. 24 stated that on May 25, 2023, the FOP sent notice of its intent to arbitrate the grievance to the township, and the township has since refused to cooperate in selecting an arbitrator.

The court determined that the issue of whether Orr complied with steps one through three of the collective bargaining agreement’s grievance procedure before demanding arbitration is an issue of procedural arbitrability and is to be determined by the arbitrator, not the court.

Logan ruled: “For the foregoing reasons, the court finds plaintiff’s motion to compel arbitration well-taken and the same is hereby granted. This matter shall be submitted to arbitration and parties shall select an arbitrator in accordance with the CBA. It is so ordered.”

Tedrow said at Monday’s meeting, “We actually lost in not arbitrating with this.

“Previously, they (trustees) attempted not to arbitrate this, but the court came back and said we’re required to at this point.”

To say that the township is looking to rehire Orr, Hernandez said, “We didn’t get to that point yet. That’s where we’re at now with legal counsel.”

Tedrow said that the court-ordered arbitration would determine whether the township was justified in the termination or not.

“Unless we choose to do something else in the meantime,” Tedrow said about the arbitration process.

“There’s other ways to handle it as well, there could be settlements and different things. But right now, it’s set to go through the arbitrator.”

The police union, trustees and the employee must approve such a settlement. If an arbitrator is picked, and the case goes to arbitration, the process could last at least three to four months, Colletta said.

MOVING FORWARD

Colletta said the trustees are trying to do the best as they move forward.

“We’re not going to rush. We’re two years down the road with it right now, so we’re not rushing just to say we’re going to rehire this guy, or we’re going to fire this guy.”

Colletta stated that the department will be hiring two new officers soon, with other officers showing interest in coming to Hubbard Township.

“As we move the department forward in a positive direction, the following goals are most important,” Colletta said.

*Increase our staffing levels to two officers per shift while continuing to make the township police department a great place to work. This is also for the safety of our residents. This also takes the burden off surrounding communities to support us during calls.

*Continue to be a community-minded and supportive open door department.

*Be more engaged in our schools and with young people in the community.

*To stay cost effective and stay within budget, operating in the black.

dnewman@tribtoday.com

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