A former Minneapolis police officer who was fired for his role in the beating of a handcuffed suspect can have his job back, an arbitrator has ruled, citing the officer’s otherwise strong service record.
The ruling found that the officer in question, Peter Brazeau, still violated the department’s policy on excessive force and, therefore, must serve an 80-hour suspension without pay. This is the most severe penalty allowed under the department’s discipline matrix, the arbitrator noted.
Sherwood Malamud wrote in his October decision that merits such as the Life Saving Award and Officer of the Month Award, as well as Brazeau’s highly rated job performance, “serve as mitigating factors which make the imposition of the discharge penalty inappropriate.”
But Malamud rejected the officer’s argument that the loss of income following his termination — approximately $20,000 by Brazeau’s calculations — was sufficient punishment.
Brazeau and his former police partner, Alexander Brown, were fired this year after a disciplinary panel found that they violated department policy for punching a handcuffed Native American man in downtown Minneapolis three years ago. Due to his military veteran status, Brazeau was entitled to a hearing, which eventually resulted in a reversal of his firing.
Both officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the December 2016 incident.
According to a police report, Brazeau and Brown encountered the apparently intoxicated man around bar-close Dec. 29, 2016, near Nicollet Mall after having a previous run-in with him earlier that night and tried to arrest him for disorderly conduct. But after being handcuffed, the man kicked Brazeau in the chest. The officers punched the man while he was handcuffed. The man suffered a broken nose and a possible traumatic brain injury, although the arbitrator wrote that it was unclear whether the injuries were suffered during the enounter with officers.
Citing a conflict of interest, officials referred the case to the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office, which declined to press charges. In a May 19, 2017, memo, St. Paul assistant city attorney Clifford Berg wrote that while the video of the encounter was “difficult to observe,” he didn’t think he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers’ use of force was excessive, according to arbitration documents.
In February, a department official reviewed the case and recommended termination, a decision he wrote was based in part on Brazeau’s response that he wouldn’t have changed anything about how he handled the incident, given another opportunity.
The next day, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo fired Brazeau, writing that the officer had “intentionally inflicted unreasonable physical force on a vulnerable member of our community causing injury and yet you felt justified in your conduct.”
Brazeau, who was honorably discharged from the Marines after two deployments in Iraq, requested a veteran’s preference hearing to try to overturn the firing, which left him in bureaucratic limbo where he is on home assignment, but still collecting his officer’s salary.
Dave Bicking, of the watchdog group Communities United Against Police Brutality, said he wasn’t altogether surprised with the arbitrator’s decision, given the inconsistency with which discipline is meted out.
“This is a problem for police chiefs: If they discipline and can’t make it stick, that’s a detriment to their police force,” he said.
Police Department spokesman John Elder said Tuesday that Brown and Brazeau are in the process of returning to work.
The police union didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, and a voice mail for Brazeau’s attorney wasn’t immediately returned.