An Athens Police Department officer who was fired for lying has been reinstated.
Matt Warren was fired after another officer saw him scratch fresh paint on a wall in the men’s locker room in April 2017. The city contends that he then lied to his superiors about the incident and failed a polygraph test.
Because his actions damaged city property and his deceit could jeopardize his testimony in court, the city dismissed him, according to an arbitration ruling. An attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents APD officers, argued the punishment was unfair because APD had not fired previous officers who lied.
An arbitrator ruled that APD had sufficient evidence to discipline Warren for lying, but ruled firing him was excessive. The arbitrator converted Warren’s dismissal to six months unpaid suspension.
The city argued that the union provided “absolutely no evidence” other than Warren’s testimony that he didn’t scratch the wall. Another officer heard someone scratching the locker room wall, then saw Warren standing in front of the wall.
“It’s a shame that this new paint is already scratched up,” Warren said to the officer in a sarcastic tone, according to the ruling.
The other officer told Lt. Nick Magruder about the scratches, and Magruder confronted Warren. Warren’s union representative argued Magruder violated policy: an agreement between APD and the union stipulates employees being questioned about potential misconduct must be informed of their rights to representation and advised that failing to cooperate or answer questions could result in insubordination charges.
During the course of the internal investigation into the paint incident, Warren told a lieutenant he did not know anything about the marks and did not put them there. He then failed a polygraph test, while the officer who witnessed him scratching the paint passed.
“(Warren) was given several opportunities to be truthful, but failed,” the city wrote in its position.
The city cited Brady v. Maryland, a U.S. Supreme Court case in which justices ruled prosecutors must turn over evidence that could support the defendant’s case, including information that damages the credibility of police officers testifying against the defendant. Warren’s conduct during the internal investigation could diminish his credibility in future cases.
“As a result, (Warren) cannot perform the essential functions of his job and is barred from reinstatement as a matter of public policy,” the city wrote in its position.
In response, the union cited six previous cases in which APD officers lied but were not immediately fired:
- September 2013: An officer received a written reprimand for fabricating a written report.
- July 2011: An officer’s report for a uniform allowance was not “truthful.”
- July 2011: Another officer “became involved in off-duty conduct” but didn’t accurately describe the situation and was verbally reprimanded.
- An officer lied about “a domestic violence situation” and received a reprimand.
- An officer lied about an unpaid debt because he was embarrassed a $100 check bounced.
- An officer abused sick leave to avoid 48 hours of work. The Athens County Prosecutor determined the conduct constituted theft in office. The employee was given a “last chance agreement” in December 2012 and was fired after he violated that agreement.
None of the officers are named in the ruling.
The firing was Warren’s first discipline in the nine years he was been employed at APD. He was disciplined while he was previously employed at a detention facility, and he did not inform APD, which the city argued was evidence of previous dishonesty. According to the arbitration ruling, the city did not initially cite that as a reason for Warren’s firing.
APD Chief Tom Pyle confirmed Warren had been reinstated, but said he would not comment further because the department doesn’t comment on “personnel matters.”
Warren did not respond to a request for comment.