State arbitrator reinstates St. Paul cop who pepper sprayed suspect

  • Article by: ABBEY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2014 - 9:38 PM

A state arbitrator on Monday reversed the firing of a St. Paul police officer who was captured on video pepper spraying a handcuffed suspect.

The decision overturns last June’s termination of officer Matt Gorans for excessive force stemming from the 2012 arrest of Eric Hightower, who was wanted for violating no-contact orders related to his ex-girlfriend.

A squad car dash camera captured the incident, and a controversial cellphone video of the arrest showed officer Jesse Zilge kicking Hightower and, with the help of another officer, slamming him onto the hood of a squad car.

The Olmsted County attorney and Minneapolis city attorney declined to charge any of the officers involved in the arrest. Zilge, who received an undisclosed discipline but was not terminated, is currently scheduling his case for arbitration.

In a statement, St. Paul Police Federation attorney Chris Wachtler lauded the decision, which “confirms that officers were dealing with a volatile and rapidly developing situation involving a known dangerous individual with a history of violence, and of resisting and evading arrest.”

Wachtler said the decision by the neutral arbitrator followed the testimony of 20 witnesses and a review of the video, which proved that Gorans’ actions did not warrant his firing.

“Rather, the arbitrator determined that officer Gorans opened himself up to scrutiny because of his willingness to step forward and assist arresting a known dangerous individual.”

The arbitrator reduced the discipline to a one-day suspension for submitting an incomplete police report.

St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla said that although Chief Thomas Smith has not yet reviewed the decision, he “respects the process and will move forward with the ruling.”

The St. Paul Police Federation also sued the city on Gorans’ behalf, alleging that the department released the video without his permission. That lawsuit is pending, Wachtler said.

ABBY SIMONS

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