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Riviera Beach officer’s arrest last month latest in series of problems with department

By Alexandra Seltzer - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

The August arrest of city police officer Obed Colon at a Backstreet Boys concert is just the latest complication in his history of problems with the department.

Besides past suspensions and the Riviera Beach police chief saying the officer “failed the community,” Colon just six months ago was reinstated to the department after the city manager had fired him in 2012.

Colon, who has been with the department since 2007, faces a charge of domestic battery stemming from an altercation with his girlfriend Aug. 25 at the Cruzan Amphitheater in suburban West Palm Beach.

Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies say Colon was “violently shaking” his fiancee. A deputy twice tried to stop the fight and had to press his hand on Colon’s chest.

“I’m a big believer in due process,” Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams said Thursday. “This officer has had his performance issues in the past, and we’ve taken what we felt to be the appropriate administrative actions. As a result he was terminated. As part of his administrative due process an arbitrator decided to give him a second bite of the apple.

“He’s back at work, and now we have a subsequent situation that is still to be determined.”

Colon at the time of his arrest was on personal leave. He is now on administrative leave with pay and has surrendered his weapon while the city looks into his case.

In March 2012 city manager Ruth Jones fired Colon because of his history of absenteeism, a problem about which he had been warned.

The decision to let Colon go came after he didn’t show up for a 6 a.m. Thanksgiving shift in 2011. Colon said he went out with his cousin the night before and had two drinks. When he got home, Colon said he forgot to charge his phone, which he used as an alarm clock, and didn’t wake up on time. Officers went to Colon’s house and told supervisors Colon appeared sleepy.

That day — which the arbitrator described as a “turkey of a day” — followed about three years that included four significant incident reports, a written warning violation, a 15-day suspension, a one-day suspension and a written reprimand, mostly for calling in sick or neglecting duty.

“It is clear that officer Obed Colon has not responded to departmental efforts designed to correct and improve his job performance,” Williams said in a written statement to the city manager. “He has failed himself and failed this community.”

However, while conceding Colon was “far from the ideal police officer the city thought he would be when it sponsored him for the Police Academy” and that he was a “disappointment,” the arbitrator March 26 decided the city was wrong in firing him, citing these reasons.

— The Thanksgiving incident led one of Colon’s supervisors to mark Colon down for paid leave, giving one of the reasons as Colon was drinking and therefore “unfit for work.” The arbitrator said no one ever determined Colon was unfit for work.

— Because Colon has had marked as tardy only four times and not five, he could not be disciplined according to the department’s rules.

— While the city recorded Colon’s not showing up for work on Thanksgiving as “AWOL” — absent without official leave — the arbitrator argued that Colon wasn’t at work because his supervisor told him not to come in after he was late.

Colon also received a complaint just one year after he started his employment for being “unprofessional,” according to his files.

In 2008, a woman called police for help when her tenant pulled a knife on her. Among the accusations she made against Colon was that he wrote a “bogus” report and that he “defamed” and “assassinated” her character. Colon was exonerated of the complaint.

In April 2009, Colon received a one-day suspension after the department determined that of the nine sick days Colon used, four were on a Monday and four were either on a Saturday or a Sunday.

Colon received a 15-day suspension in April 2010 after he failed to appear for two traffic hearings, which caused those cases to be dismissed against the defendants, and also failed to attend three scheduled depositions.

“Police officers are just like, microcosms of the society, and just like any other citizen,” Williams said Thursday. “And the standard in our country is you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

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