Duluth fights a system that protects bad cops

Duluth is learning what other cities have learned in recent years: it’s really hard to fire people who shouldn’t be cops. Even when cities fire the cops, an arbitrator usually reinstates them.

Officer Adam Huot was on the Duluth force for nine years and has the excessive force complaints to prove it. But when he pulled an intoxicated man in handcuffs down a skyway, slamming his head against a door, the city couldn’t look the other way anymore.

The police union in Duluth acknowledged Huot’s actions “were inappropriate and reflected poorly on all police officers,” but it said the incident didn’t warrant his firing, the Duluth News Tribune said.

Over the summer, an arbitrator agreed, as arbitrators often do.

But the city isn’t giving up; it’s asking a judge to overrule the arbitrator, the paper says.

Susan Hansen, a Twin Cities attorney retained by the city, told the judge that Huot has “demonstrated a proclivity” to violate the social contract between police and the community and “undermined the mission of the DPD and his performance as a police officer for the DPD.”

“Returning Adam Huot to his position violates the public’s trust and subjects them to unreasonable use of force, unreported police misconduct and abuse of authority by those sworn to protect and serve them,” Hansen argued.

The city is asking the court to take the rare step of overturning a binding arbitration decision. State law requires collective bargaining agreements between public employers and unions to contain a provision for disciplinary disputes to be resolved through binding arbitration — as was the case in Huot’s grievance.

A dozen complaints were filed against Huot in his Duluth career; six of them were substantiated. He got a one-day suspension in 2014 for punching a man who had escaped from a mental health unit in the face.

The union’s lawyer says concerns about the officer’s future actions if he’s put back on the streets are “purely speculative.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court is currently considering a case in which the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned a judge’s refusal to uphold the firing of a Richfield cop who struck a Somali teenager in the head.

The judge in the Duluth case says he does not plan to wait for the Supreme Court to decide the case before ruling.

Related: How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street (The Atlantic)