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Minnesota deputy's firing was proper, arbitrator rules; officer was involved in 33 crashes in 17 years of service

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Todd County was within its rights to fire a former sheriff’s deputy, according to a state arbitrator.

Mark Grinstead, who now serves as a part-time police officer for the city of Osakis, filed a grievance with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services about his termination, claiming the county’s actions were without just cause.

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In defending the termination, Todd County’s labor attorney, Kristi Hastings, said Grinstead had a history of vehicle accidents, mostly due to excessive speed, driving unreasonably in light of conditions and distracted driving.

Grinstead was involved in 33 crashes with his squad car over 17 years, according to the arbitrator’s report. The losses cost the county in the range of $100,000. He was fired in May 2013.

The sheriff’s office’s disciplinary actions against Grinstead culminated on April 30, 2013, when he was involved in his fourth vehicle crash in four months – hitting a 500-pound cow.

His other crashes while driving a patrol car included collisions with 19 deer, a dog, pheasants, a garage, a fence post and a raccoon.

The county maintained that while other deputies have been involved in accidents, no other deputy had “the volume and severity” of Grinstead’s accident record.

The county cited other factors for the firing: a history of critical job performance evaluations, tampering with another officer’s property, posting evidence photos on Facebook, improper use of sick leave and other misconduct.

“Considering the economic and operational consequences of (Grinstead’s) driving and his general conduct, the employer had ‘just cause’ for termination,” arbitrator Rolland Toenges said in the ruling issued in January. “Although the record reveals some of (Grinstead’s) good qualities, they are over shadowed by his unfavorable qualities.”

Grinstead, a certified emergency vehicle instructor, served as a field training officer for Todd County in central Minnesota, with Long Prairie as the county seat. His duties included “working with less experienced deputies familiarizing them with such duties as operation of squad cars under different conditions,” according to state arbitration records.

Grinstead’s union representative argued that the evidence showed he was not at fault in any of the accidents that happened in April and May 2013.

The union said the county never provided proper notice of the supposed reasons for Grinstead’s termination or the policies that he allegedly violated.

“The record shows that (Grinstead) has been subjected to disparate treatment – while other deputies have been involved in numerous crashes, none have ever been investigated or disciplined in any way,” said the union representative.

The union noted that Grinstead served 20 years in law enforcement. In addition to his service in Todd County, he worked as a jailer/transport officer for Douglas County and as a part-time officer in Osakis.

In a prior job performance evaluation, Grinstead was described as a “good veteran officer,” a “leader of (the) department” who “makes good decisions,” and a “good teacher for younger officers” who “continues to excel at his job,” the union representative said.

The union said Grinstead was not afforded due process – the disciplinary action went from a one-day suspension directly to termination. It claimed the county failed to give proper notice and did not provide a thorough investigation into his alleged misconduct.

Al Edenloff, INFORUM

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