An arbitrator has denied a Forest Lake police officer's claim that he was unfairly suspended for five days for filming a video that made reference to an ongoing labor dispute between the city and union members.

Patrick Ferguson, a Forest Lake patrol officer for 11 years, had argued that the city lacked just cause in imposing the suspension. He said he had intended the video as a joke.

Filming was done on the public payroll last spring when officers supposedly were executing a special operation to catch graffiti artists who had been defacing city buildings, said arbitrator Richard Beens of St. Louis Park.

"Using 5.7 hours of duty time to produce a 30-second political and personal video is beyond the pale of reasonableness," he wrote.

Two police sergeants found the video on the department's computer network in April, according to the binding judgment that Beens issued Nov. 1. Scrolling across the screen was the message, "It is a period of contract negotiations. A rebel bargaining unit striking from a not so secret base have won yet another victory against the evil MANAGEMENT EMPIRE."

That was followed by a short scene filmed in a police garage in which a police officer dressed as the Darth Vader character from the Star Wars movies wielded a light saber to slay a police sergeant, Beens wrote.

On-screen credits detailed involvement of five city police officers and listed Ferguson as the video's producer, Beens wrote.

Police Chief Clark Quiring ordered an internal affairs investigation that led to Ferguson's suspension. Six other officers -- the department has 25 sworn officers -- also received disciplinary action.

Witnesses interviewed during a hearing described Ferguson as a "good cop" who had a well-earned reputation in Forest Lake as a practical joker and prankster, Beens said. Ferguson had faced no previous disciplinary actions and had received good performance reviews in the department.

But Beens ruled that "there is overwhelming evidence, including Grievant's own admissions, that he violated a number of department policies. ... Despite his protestations to the contrary, the 'Star Wars' video is a blatantly political work advancing union interests to the detriment of management. This would be a perfectly appropriate exercise of Grievant's free speech rights had it been done while off duty."

A police union, Law Enforcement Labor Services, represented Ferguson in the action.

Kevin Giles • 651-735-3342