Arbitrator rules to reinstate Omaha police officer - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 11:32 am / Updated at 4:45 am
Arbitrator rules to reinstate Omaha police officer

Video: Click here to see video of Robert Wagner arrest.

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An Omaha police officer involved in the forceful arrest of an Omaha man last year can return to work.

An independent labor arbitrator ruled to reinstate Officer Jackie Dolinsky, a four-year veteran of the department, one year after she was involved in the controversial arrest of Robert Wagner outside the Creighton University Medical Center.

Former Police Chief Alex Hayes moved in September to fire Dolinsky and Officer Aaron Pennington for their roles in the videotaped scuffle.

Wagner said he wasn't surprised by Dolinsky's reinstatement.

They (police officers) do what they're allowed to get away with,” he said, and their superiors should be the ones held accountable.

Dolinsky's reinstatement cannot be appealed. The decision ends her months-long, closed-door process to fight her termination. Arbitration hearings on the issue ended late last month.

As part of a reinstatement agreement between the city and the police officers union, Dolinsky will be disciplined in an unspecified manner and could receive additional training.

It's still unclear when she will return to work, said Sgt. John Wells, head of the city's police union.

It is also unclear where Dolinsky will be assigned. She won't return to her post in the city's northeast precinct, authorities with knowledge of the situation told The World-Herald.

Pennington's arbitration proceedings are scheduled to begin later this summer.

Dolinsky's reinstatement is sure to be welcomed by officers who felt the firings were unjustified, and it's likely to be decried by members of the community who raised concerns about the officers' perceived use of excessive force.

Wagner pleaded no contest in May to attempted assault of a police officer, a misdemeanor, for his role in the incident. He faces up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both when he is sentenced later this month.

“I never felt that the situation was fair, it's just how things played out,” he said. “But my day's not ruined because of (this). I'm still going on with my life.”

Controversy erupted after security video footage showed officers forcefully taking Wagner, 35, into custody on May 29, 2011, outside Creighton University Medical Center after he allegedly had refused orders to leave the hospital and punched one officer in the head.

At one point in the approximately five-minute clip of the incident, an officer kicks Wagner repeatedly while several officers pin him on the ground. Officers also used a Taser to subdue Wagner.

After the footage became public, outraged community activists renewed calls to revive the city's dormant public safety auditor position. Hayes has said that command officers immediately flagged the incident for review.

Dolinsky and Pennington were placed on administrative leave at the beginning of September and were informed of Hayes' decision to pursue their termination. Dolinsky has served with the department since 2007; Pennington, since 2006.

Under the police contract, officers can be disciplined for offenses including abusive or improper treatment to a person in custody unless the action was necessary for self-defense, to protect the lives of others or to prevent a suspect's escape.

Discipline can include a written reprimand, suspension without pay, demotion or firing.

The arbitrator's decision to reject Dolinsky's firing was largely based on a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that an officer's use of force is permissible if it is “objectively reasonable.”

“That's basically the lens that you look at this action through,” Wells said of the court decision.

“In this case, we've pretty much stated all along that we looked forward to stating all the facts because we feel the use of force is justified,” he said. “(The ruling) just reinforces that what officers believe to be the approach to their jobs is actually correct.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, johnny.perez@owh.com, twitter.com/PerezJr

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