A St. Paul police officer was fired after he shot a gun in his back yard while drinking, used a department Breathalyzer without permission and pepper sprayed a noisy resident, according to an arbitration decision made public this month by the state Bureau of Mediation Services.
Officer Jon Fish, 33, who had worked for the police department for six years, was discharged on Feb. 15 after residents filed several complaints and corresponding internal affairs investigations were conducted. The St. Paul Police Federation filed a grievance on his behalf a few days later saying his punishment was excessive, but the city of St. Paul denied the grievance.
On Nov. 11, an arbitrator also denied the grievance.
“When trying to establish that the city of St. Paul maintains a police force with integrity, fairly enforcing the law, there is little justification for reinstating an employee who has committed misconduct of this sort,” wrote arbitrator Andrea Mitau Kircher in the decision, in looking at just the shooting incident.
Fish couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
According to the decision, Fish was hired as a St. Paul police officer in February 2007 and did not have any serious incidents at his job until 2012, when residents filed three complaints against him.
In August of last year, the department received an anonymous complaint from a resident who said Fish was using a preliminary breath test (PBT) machine in a bar while off-duty. The complainant said that Fish, who was allegedly very drunk, used the PBT to talk with women at the bar by offering to test their alcohol level.
It was discovered that Fish had taken the PBT from the police’s central district inventory without permission a year before for a charity golf event and hadn’t returned it.
While investigators weren’t able to determine if allegations about the use of the PBT with women at a bar were true, Fish admitted that he had taken the PBT and kept it and used it at another golf event to help raise money for charity. The idea was to have golfers pay $1 to determine how drunk they were and the most drunk person would get a free ride home.
In the fall of 2012, an attorney for a resident filed an internal affairs complaint saying that Fish had used excessive force and illegally entered the home of his client during an incident in February 2012 in which neighbors had complained that the resident’s music was too loud.
Fish responded to the call and found drunk people who had been attending a Super Bowl party and who did not cooperate with Fish’s request to quiet down. Fish used pepper spray on the homeowner and he and another officer entered the home, where Fish also used a stun gun against the homeowner. The officers allegedly felt threatened by the angry partygoers.
In October 2012, the department received another anonymous complaint in which a St. Paul resident said that he heard gunshots early in the morning near where Fish lived. When questioned, Fish said he had been drinking that night with friends and had fired a whole magazine from his own pistol into a fire pit in his back yard.
Discharging a firearm in city limits is illegal. Fish told his supervisor and internal affairs and criminal investigators that he had just fired blanks, which was determined to be a lie. In January, a judge sentenced him to a year of probation. By then, Fish had begun an alcohol treatment program and counseling.
Police Chief Tom Smith was presented with the results of the internal affairs investigations around the same time.
In December 2012, Commander Colleen Luna, the head of internal affairs, recommended a finding of improper conduct on the Breathalyzer complaint. In January, Luna submitted a report sustaining the complaint of excessive force and improper conduct dealing with the noisy residents and sustaining the complaint about the shooting incident. After reviewing the information, Smith accepted the recommendations and fired Fish.
The police union said that the city should have attempted to correct Fish’s behavior instead of dismissing him, especially in light of his efforts to deal with his alcohol abuse.
“The federation asserts that [Fish] deserves a second chance and should not have been terminated,” the decision said.