By Rikki King and Eric Stevick Herald Writers
MARYSVILLE — An arbitrator has ordered the city of Marysville to rehire a former police officer who lost his job after his 3-year-old son shot and killed his 7-year-old daughter.
Derek Carlile, 32, was fired in spring 2013, after a criminal trial and an internal investigation into the March 2012 shooting after the toddler got hold of a gun Carlile left in a cup holder.
A jury did not convict Carlile of any crime. Nonetheless, in the termination letter, city officials cited “Carlile’s negligent actions and the public scrutiny” as grounds to dismiss him from the police force.
The arbitrator says Carlile should have been suspended, but firing him violated the city’s labor contract regarding off-duty misconduct by police officers.
City officials received notification of the arbitrator’s decision on Monday, City Administrator Gloria Hirashima said. The arbitrator did not grant Carlile back pay. The city was ordered to act within 30 days.
“We are prepared to implement the arbitrator’s decision,” she said.
Seattle attorney David Allen represented Carlile during his criminal trial, but not during the arbitration process. Carlile has found a job outside of police work and hasn’t decided whether he will return to the force, Allen said.
Carlile was accused of leaving his handgun and his young children unattended in the family van before the shooting. He and his wife had stepped out of the van in Stanwood to run an errand as they headed to a wedding from their home on Camano Island.
Carlile had not gotten much sleep the night before, and they were running late to the wedding, according to investigative documents previously obtained by The Herald.
Carlile left the gun in the van’s cup-holder, underneath some mail. The boy climbed out of his carseat, got the gun and shot his sister, Jenna.
Carlile was fired for committing a negligent act, endangering himself or others, not promoting a positive image as a police officer, and for conduct unbecoming of a police officer, records show. The firing was announced in May, and the appeal filed in the following weeks.
The Herald on Tuesday obtained a copy of the 31-page arbitration ruling through a public records request.
In the proceedings, city officials called the shooting a “deadly breach of judgment,” wrote the arbitrator, Timothy Williams, whose website lists three offices on the West Coast, including Seattle.
The union argued that Carlile was off-duty when the shooting occurred, and the incident involved his personal vehicle and his personal gun, not a department-issued firearm, according to the ruling.
The union also argued that Carlile’s return would not make anyone uncomfortable or unwilling to work with him, and that the incident did not harm the police department’s reputation. One Marysville police lieutenant testified that, “Derek is the kind of officer that represents us well and would represent the city well in the future.”
Harming the police department’s reputation can be legal grounds for termination. In his analysis, Williams wrote that firing Carlile violated the labor contract, which requires prior warnings for bad behavior under most circumstances, particularly for off-duty conduct.
However, Williams also noted that Carlile’s unsafe behavior regarding firearms was a clear and negative reflection on his work as a police officer.
“No question about it, (Carlile’s) actions gave the city the proverbial black eye,” he wrote.
Carlile deserved substantial discipline but not losing his job, Williams wrote. Before the shooting, Carlile had an “exemplary performance record.”
In the labor proceedings, Carlile reportedly testified that he wants to return to the police department, “with all my heart.”
Before his firing, the city offered Carlile a job as a code enforcement officer, a position that doesn’t involve police powers or carrying a firearm. He declined. He’d been with the police department since April 2009.
The Marysville Police Officers Association declined to comment on the ruling on Tuesday.
Under labor contracts and state laws, police unions have an obligation to represent officers who are fired and wish to be reinstated. In recent years, cities in Snohomish County and the rest of the state have grown wary of cases where officers take their case before arbitrators. Under labor contracts, arbitrators have authority to reinstate officers and order back pay.
That’s happened at least twice since 2008, once in Monroe and once in Mountlake Terrace.
In addition, there was a ruling last year where an arbitrator ordered the state Department of Corrections to reverse the firings of three Monroe Correctional Complex officers after they were accused of misconduct, dishonesty and dereliction of duty in the days surrounding the 2011 murder of officer Jayme Biendl.
In some local cities, police administrators privately say they’ve opted at times to assign lesser degrees of discipline to officers in hopes of warding off legal challenges by labor groups.
In Lake Stevens, the city signed a “last-chance” agreement with an officer in exchange for a dropped grievance. That officer later was fired, after at least seven internal investigations.
State police experts this year are seeking legislation that would change how arbitrators can be involved in misconduct firings.
Last year, Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith wrote in a memo that the Carlile shooting was an “aberration” for the officer.
Carlile normally handled guns safely and he made a “singular mistake” with tragic consequences, the report said.
“While the investigator and the facts may make clear that this incident was an ‘aberration,’ the public expects law enforcement officers to understand and practice responsible firearms ownership. Which in this case, it means securing a firearm so that horrible accidents simply cannot occur,” the chief wrote.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.