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Fired officer wins arbitration

The Crystal River officer will return to the force after three months' absence, during which he worked for Wildwood police.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Fired police Officer Pedro Williams has won his arbitration case and will be returning to the force after a three-month absence, the city police chief says.

"I was told verbally the ruling went in his favor," Police Chief James Farley said Monday. "Right now, we're waiting to see in writing what they give as their reason."

Williams, 30, was fired March 10 after his fourth drinking-related suspension. He went to work as a full-time officer with the Wildwood Police Department in late March and took his case of unfair termination to the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association.

A tribunal of three local police chiefs, including Bennie Holder of Tampa and Joseph Elizarde of Inverness, recently spent a day hearing evidence and arguments in the City Council chambers. Several city officers testified against Williams.

Farley, as well as the city's labor attorney, Brian Koji, said Monday that they think the department lost because it could not prove Williams was intoxicated in the case of the most recent suspension. Other Crystal River police officers claim he had been drinking. The officers should have submitted Williams to a field sobriety test and then a blood-alcohol test if there was a reasonable suspicion he was drunk, Farley said.

"In my judgment, I was not required to prove it legally because this was not a trial," Farley said. "All I needed to show was a preponderance of the evidence, which I thought we clearly showed."

The vote was 2-1, with the dissenting vote coming from Gainesville Police Chief Norm Botsford, Farley said.

Neither Williams nor his attorney, Robert Stull of Tampa, who works with the Police Benevolent Association, could be reached for comment on Monday.

Koji said that it would have been smart to administer a field sobriety test to Williams, who had spent the evening at bars in the area.

During the hearing, Williams' attorney said Williams carries the sickle cell trait. One of his representatives suggested the condition, found chiefly among blacks, may have made Williams look sluggish. Koji called the argument a "smokescreen."

Police Cpl. Joseph Casola also was suspended for five days in the incident for not telling his superiors that Williams had been drinking. At the time, Williams said he had been drinking, but claimed he was able to drive safely, Farley said.

If awarded back pay, Williams would only be paid for the time he was not employed at Wildwood, Farley said.

Williams was hired in 1994 and served three trouble-free years, his records show.

"He's a nice guy and everybody here likes him and wishes him well," Farley said. "I hope he goes on and has a long career in law enforcement."

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