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Fired Cape Coral police officer to be reinstated

By Staff | Jan 9, 2010

A Cape Coral police officer fired last year for “conduct unbecoming a police officer” will return to duty Monday, having been reinstated by an independent arbitrator.
Officer Curt Suskevich was terminated Jan. 6, 2009, by Cape Coral Police Chief Rob Petrovich after an internal investigation by the department into an incident in Key West involving Suskevich and his wife. Suskevich appealed the termination Jan. 14, 2009, through the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33.
Suskevich and his wife, Christine, were charged with possession of marijuana in August 2008 after Christine reportedly fired Suskevich’s handgun at a wall inside their vacation home. The couple told responding officers that the drugs discovered in the home belonged to Christine.
Christine was found guilty on the possession charge, as well as firing a handgun under the influence of alcohol and possession of narcotic equipment, according to court records. The charge against Suskevich, who said he was unaware that she was using marijuana and did not know the contraband was in the home, was dropped.
However, Suskevich was terminated following the internal investigation, during which Petrovich determined Suskevich was aware of his wife’s use of marijuana yet did nothing to stop the illegal activity.
According to police spokeswoman Connie Barron, the Fraternal Order of Police and the city entered into binding arbitration over Suskevich’s firing per the collective bargaining agreement. Independent arbitrator Thomas G. Humphries determined a lesser penalty than termination was warranted.
“Binding arbitration is a process available to employees,” Barron said. “Whatever decision comes out of binding arbitration, both parties have to respect that decision, honor that decision and support that decision.”
Humphries reported that Suskevich was not found to possess or use illegal drugs, was not convicted of criminal misconduct and had a meritorious record in his years as a police officer. However, he dismissed Suskevich’s claim that Christine hid her illegal activities from him.
“The portrait of the Grievant as merely a duped husband emerges from the record as a feeble attempt by both husband and wife to establish his naivete when it came to her drug use … the totality of the evidence in the instant case belies the claim of his having no knowledge of her marijuana use,” Humphries wrote.
“To conclude he had not been aware of his wife’s drug use and the fact that she had brought marijuana into their vacation residence is to cast a blind eye upon clear and convincing evidence to the contrary,” he added.
Humphries reinstated Suskevich at his previous pay level — $59,945 at the time of his termination — with the condition that Suskevich enter into a two-year “last chance agreement.” Under the agreement, Suskevich “would be subject to random drug testing and discharge at the discretion of the department for any proven violation of department rules.”
Humphries reported that the union called for Suskevich “to return to his employment” and “be compensated for all lost wages, benefits and pension credits.” He decided Suskevich will receive no back pay, nor compensation for benefits nor pension, “due to the seriousness of the infraction.”
“One side may prevail, or the other side may prevail,” Barron said of arbitration. “Or it may be split down the middle like it was in this case.”
“For all intents and purposes, he has served a one-year probation without pay, which is pretty significant,” she added.
Barron said Suskevich filed a grievance with the city manager after his termination, but former City Manager Terry Stewart backed Petrovich’s decision and the grievance was denied. Suskevich then turned to the union, which moved forward with the arbitration.
According to Barron, Humphries’ ruling is supported by the department.
“The chief has encouraged everyone to receive him (Suskevich),” she said, “and offer support and understanding that will allow him to be successful.”
Suskevich was hired by the Cape Coral Police Department in March 1999.
He was unavailable for comment Friday.