A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy who patrolled the streets of Belle Glade wearing a skull cap emblazoned with the word “Punishment” and complained on Facebook of getting itchy because he hadn’t beaten anyone in 14 days has won his job back.
A so-called “last-chance agreement” former deputy Brent Raban signed in 2009 after being demoted for his Facebook rants and his offensive headgear didn’t cover a neighborhood dispute which ultimately led to the 12-year veteran’s dismissal, an arbitrator ruled.
Facebook postings have nothing to do with a woman’s claims that Raban parked his patrol car on the sidewalk in their Egret Isle neighborhood in Lake Worth and used his position as a deputy to harass her and her family, the arbitrator said. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw maintained that the neighbor’s complaint constituted a violation of the last-chance agreement when he fired Raban months after the agreement was signed. The arbitrator disagreed.
“The current allegations grow out of and pertain to a homeowner’s dispute over parking and this has no remote relationship to Facebook postings,” arbitrator William McGinnis wrote, ordering Bradshaw to reinstate Raban and pay him back wages.
“The (last-chance agreement) was specific and it limited consideration of any new charge to be the same or similar activity,” McGinnis wrote. “It is clear to me that the former conduct is not even remotely relevant to the current allegations.”
Chief Deputy Mike Gauger said Tuesday the agency was disappointed by the decision. In papers filed last week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Bradshaw is asking a judge to overturn it. A successful appeal would keep Raban from returning to the force and save taxpayers the estimated $150,000 the agency could be forced to pay in back wages.
In the suit, sheriff’s office attorney Peter Sampo claims McGinnis was biased and overstepped his bounds. He criticized McGinnis’ assertion that the neighbor’s complaints had nothing to do with Raban’s job as a deputy. It was a homeowner’s dispute, McGinnis said.
As a former homeowners association president, he said he is familiar with parking disputes that grip neighborhoods. The woman’s complaint about Raban’s parking should have been handled by the homeowner’s association, not sparked an agency investigation, he said. Further, he found no evidence that Raban harassed the woman.
Gauger said the decision shows how union contracts force law-enforcement agencies to keep bad eggs. He said the agency couldn’t fire Raban over his Facebook posting, which were unprofessional and embarrassed the department.
Raban posted mugshots of people who had clearly been beaten up and bragged, “Like a good batterer, I know the areas that hide the marks well.” But, Gauger said, investigators couldn’t find any victims. They couldn’t find anyone to say Raban beat them.
“It was a bunch of hot air, just machismo stuff,” he said. “They’re like Walter Mittys. In real life, they’re scared little people, but on the Internet, they’re big strong tough guys.”