A Broward sheriff’s deputy who was fired for taking cover behind his truck and then driving away from the Parkland school massacre should be reinstated with back-pay, an arbitrator has ruled.
With Monday’s ruling, Deputy Josh Stambaugh is now the second fired deputy in recent months to have an arbitrator rule they should get their job back after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony fired Josh Stambaugh on June 25, 2019, following investigations into his response during the 2018 massacre in Parkland.
The arbitrator’s recent decision is yet another blow to those who want police accountability in the aftermath of what they call one of most egregious cases of neglect of duty by police.
A total of eight deputies from the Broward Sheriff’s Office heard the jarring blasts of an AK-47 and failed to enter the school and confront Nikolas Cruz as he roamed the halls shooting students and staff. Cruz killed 17 people and injured another 17.
Monday’s ruling is the second time in four months that an arbitrator has said a deputy fired over the mishandling at the school should be reinstated. Just like in the previous ruling with Sgt. Brian Miller, the reinstatement is based on a technicality.
In a statement to the Sun Sentinel on Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office called the decision a bad one and said it intended to explore legal options.
The technicalities could prove to be very costly to taxpayers because in both cases, the arbitrator ruled that deputies should get back pay, as well as any overtime they would have accrued, as well as lost wages for off-duty details.
Tony failed to fire both Miller and Stambaugh in a timely fashion, violating the deputies' due-process rights, the arbitrators ruled.
The arbiter found that the sheriff terminated Stambaugh 13 days past a deadline that a state law allows for punishing law enforcement officers once an investigation is completed. In the Miller case, it was a two days past the deadline.
The Sheriff’s Office’s general counsel had this to say: “Once again, an arbitrator with no connection or association with Broward County has made a flawed decision to reinstate a deputy who was terminated for his response to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.
"The arbitrator ruled on a procedural issue that BSO allegedly took too long to conduct the investigation, instead of addressing Joshua Stambaugh’s failures and holding him accountable for his lack of response during the [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] massacre. The Broward Sheriff’s Office will explore all legal options to address this erroneous decision.
The cases were heard by different arbiters. The Sheriff’s Office has 90 days to appeal the decision on Stambaugh. It has filed an appeal in Miller’s case. A hearing is scheduled for next month on Miller.
The third case — involving Deputy Edward Eason, who also was fired by Tony over the mishandling in Parkland — is set for arbitration later this year. Jeff Bell, the president of deputies' union, said he believes the termination of Eason also fell outside of that is called the 180-day rule.
Bell said the technicalities could result in upward of $750,000 in back-pay and other earnings, such as time off and any out-of-pocket cost for things such as insurance.
In 2018, Stambaugh earned $152,00 in base pay, overtime and other earnings; Miller pulled in $137,000 and Eason made $118,000.
“Today’s arbitration win now clears two of the three terminated deputies from wrongful termination from the [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] shooting.
“The waste of taxpayer money on cases where the agency knows it violated Florida State Statutes” by not verifying a report and exceeding their 180-day limit "should be questioned,” Bell, the union president, told the Sun Sentinel.
Eileen Kelley can be reached at 772-925-9193 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @reporterkell.
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