Fired by Minneapolis for lying, Brendon Schram was booted after 22 years with the department. After a two-year legal battle, he can regain his job and seniority.
A Minneapolis police officer who complained that superiors bullied him was fired for insubordination only to win his job back this month after a more than two-year legal battle.
The case, publicly detailed in a 53-page arbitrator's statement, provides a somewhat-rare view of internal police department politics and illuminates the usually veiled process by which the city tried to shed an employee.
In the months before his termination, superiors forbade officer Brendon Schram to work with his long-term partner and sent him voice mails and e-mails threatening to formally accuse him of insubordination. A precinct lieutenant closely monitored him, and he was screamed at and questioned repeatedly about things like use of sick time, arbitrator Janice Frankman documented.
Schram, a 22-year veteran of the department with a solid work record, said he believed he was being pressured to retire because of his age and seniority. He said he had a generally good relationship with his superiors until he got a new boss in 2006 and began to get negative performance reviews.
That boss, the now-retired Robert Skomra, said he was impressed with Schram's memory -- a valuable asset for a street officer -- but not with Schram's attitude toward superiors.
"It was amazing that Brendon had such a mind for police work but such a disregard for supervision," said Skomra.
The ruling was not a complete vindication for Schram; the arbitrator said evidence shows that he lied to superiors about his whereabouts on a particular morning, the charge that eventually led Chief Tim Dolan to fire him. Arbitrator Frankman said that infraction didn't warrant firing -- that an 80-hour suspension without pay would have been sufficient.
City officials and a Police Department spokesman declined to comment on the case. The city says it does not plan to appeal the ruling, meaning Schram can return to work with back pay and his pension and seniority restored.
His lawyer, Phillip Trobaugh of Minneapolis, said neither he nor Schram would comment.
Schram joined the force in 1986 after earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Minnesota. His record has a written reprimand in 1989 and another in 1990. A citizen review board that investigates complaints against the city's police had no substantiated complaints against him, records say.
In summer 2006, Skomra took over as the Second Precinct's new inspector. Schram said problems began when he twice turned down Skomra's request that he take a desk job studying crime trends. Things worsened for Schram when Lt. Gregory Reinhardt joined the precinct in spring 2007, Frankman wrote.
Schram asked for a transfer to another precinct. When the request was denied, he e-mailed a city human resources official: "I have been repeatedly harassed by Skomra, Reinhardt and my line supervisors over sick time usage, length of time spent on calls, if I have my department Nextel phone on, etc. etc. etc."
Schram complied with a request from human resources to come to City Hall for a meeting on Dec. 19, 2007. It began at 8:30 a.m. and lasted two hours.
Reinhardt tracked him electronically from the Second Precinct via the department's GPS system, which monitors the location of every squad car. A sergeant later asked Schram where he'd been.
Schram said he had helped a homeless man near Dinkytown with a robbery, and then drove downtown to fill out related paperwork. He said the same thing to an internal affairs investigator a few months later, as the city developed its case that he had lied about his whereabouts Dec. 19.
Arbitrator Frankman's report said Reinhardt, who declined to comment for this story, did much of that probe -- gathering the GPS records, Schram's patrol log and Schram's Nextel phone records for that day. With that data, Reinhardt filed the complaint that led to Schram's firing.
"Ever since [former police chief] Bob Olson was here, if you lied to IA, you're going to be dismissed," said Skomra, who was on the force for four decades.
Schram's offense was not as severe as those committed by other officers recently fired, Frankman wrote. Others' offenses included ethics and conduct violations and violations involving guns, a domestic dispute, use of alcohol and lying. One officer was fired for having nude photos of himself and others.
Frankman noted that several of Schram's supervisors in the Second Precinct found his work acceptable. Some chafed at the ongoing restrictions on him, particularly Reinhardt's insistence that Schram not ride with his longtime partner.
"I seriously hope that the armchair quarterback[ing] and obvious disdain for these two officers stops immediately," wrote Sgt. David Gray.
Frankman agreed with the city's argument that Schram lied, saying that "reflected poor judgment on his part."
The decision said Schram's behavior should have been considered in context -- particularly his concern that supervisors would retaliate because he had complained to human resources. Further, Frankman said, the city offered no proof that other police officers were terminated for lying.
The arbitrator concluded: "... Schram was the target of Reinhardt's and Skomra's loathing, and when he stood up to them, there was retaliation which did not stop until he was fired."
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747