Ruling: Officer fired over racist posts entitled to back pay

WEST LINN, Ore. (AP) — An arbitrator ruled that the city of West Linn was justified in firing a police officer accused of making racially biased comments on social media but must pay lost wages because supervisors did nothing to address the problem until it was reported by the media.

The arbitrator, attorney Eric Lindauer, concluded that Tom Newberry's posts were common knowledge among several high-ranking officers before he was placed on leave in July 2016, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .

But the arbitrator also found that some of Newberry's superiors "liked" or replied to some of the posts.

"Therefore, the department must bear some economic responsibility for its failure to follow its own policies," the arbiter's opinion said.

Courtney Flynn, a West Linn spokeswoman, said the city is appealing the ruling. She declined to comment on how much money the city was ordered to pay.

Newberry earned an annual salary of $82,480 when he was fired, Flynn said.

At 17 months, that could work out to Newberry being owed nearly $116,850 in salary alone.

The supervisors who failed to act on the posts have all left the department, the newspaper said.

Newberry, 65, spent 16 years as a Portland police officer and was hired by West Linn police in November 2008.

City Manager Eileen Stein wrote in Newberry's termination notice that his "conduct was inexcusable for a public safety officer whose most important job functions are serving the public's interest and maintaining the public's trust," the opinion said

The Clackamas County Peace Officers' Association filed a grievance on Newberry's behalf in March 2017, saying he was fired without cause and should be reinstated.

The union contended that Newberry's posts were misinterpreted and protected by the First Amendment. The grievance argued that the city failed to prove the posts were "either racially biased or advocated violence."

Asked by internal investigators to explain himself, Newberry said the posts were "misinterpreted" or "misconstrued" by people biased against police officers, Lindauer wrote in the opinion.

Lindauer ultimately disagreed with the arguments made by Newberry and the union. Newberry's posts were "unnecessarily vulgar," ''disrespectful" and "significantly undermined the public trust in the police department," Lindauer wrote.

"A fair review of Newberry's postings would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the person making the posts demonstrated a racist ideology," Lindauer wrote.

The opinion also said Newberry "showed no regret and was unapologetic and offensive throughout."

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com

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