A police union’s complaint alleging that the York County Sheriff’s Office, and York County, retaliated against employees who were union members and harbored anti-union animus has been dismissed.
The Maine Labor Relations Board wrote in its July 24 decision that the union, the Fraternal Order of Police, of which the York County Patrol Association is a member, provided “insufficient” evidence to prove that actions taken by the sheriff’s office and county amounted to retaliation against protection union activity.
“While it is clear that there is an acrimonious labor-management atmosphere between union employees here and senior management, the Board is unable to conclude that the employees’ protected activity was a motivating factor for the County’s actions in this case given the bulk of undisputed evidence,” the board’s decision reads.
The union asserted a “long-standing anti-union animus” existing among York Sheriff William King Jr. and others in the sheriff’s office, including the sheriff’s second-in-command, Chief Deputy Thomas Baran, and Maj. Paul Mitchell. It pointed to investigations into the credibility of Deputy Travis Jones, who was elected union vice president in June 2017, and Sgt. Mathieu Nadeau, who serves on the union’s executive board; requiring Nadeau to write a term paper on a two-day training he attended; improperly subjecting Deputy Robert Carr Jr., who was elected union president in June 2017, and Sgt. Steven Thistlewood, who is a member of the union’s collective bargaining unit, to internal investigations; and denying Carr’s request to join a drug investigation involving a confidential informant.
The York County Patrol Association filed the original complaint in December 2017, but the Fraternal Order of Police assumed control when the Maine union affiliated with it. A hearing was held on Feb. 11, 2019.
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Alleged anti-union animus
Much of the evidence presented by the union to prove an anti-union bias in the sheriff’s office involved interactions between higher-ups and Nadeau, according to the labor board.
In one April 2017 incident, Nadeau emailed a Maine State Police lieutenant to thank the officer for the use of a state police canine. Baran, the chief deputy, and the sheriff told Nadeau that he should not communicate directly the state police, saying only senior management should do so, according to the labor board.
Baran also accused Nadeau of “grandstanding” and “attempting to draw attention to himself” in an email he sent to subordinates about dispatcher appreciation week. Around the same time, Mitchell called Nadeau into a meeting to express the sheriff’s “outrage” that Nadeau had signed off on an email request for information about a deputy’s job performance with the word “Respectfully” that the sheriff had “taken to mean the opposite of respectfully,” the labor board said.
The labor board did not detail the content of those emails.
Another central incident the union offered as evidence of anti-union animus was a “Giglio inquiry” into Jones and Nadeau. (A “Giglio impaired” officer is one against whom there is potentially impeachable evidence and whose credibility as a witness has been called into question, which the labor board said can be a “career-ending situation for an officer. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that prosecutors must disclose such information to the defense.)
On May 2, 2017, Jones was involved in a car crash with a member of the public, and Nadeau later issued a report that found Jones not at fault, the labor board said. But as a result of a technical error, the report incorrectly indicated that Jones investigated the crash. That was later brought to the attention of the sheriff’s office after an insurance claim was filed, and the county’s risk pool manager suggested the state police conduct an independent investigation, according to the board.
The state police report, and a second internal investigation by the sheriff’s office issued June 2, 2017, concluded that Jones was, in fact, at fault in the May 2 crash, the board said.
King, the sheriff, between June 2 and June 12 contacted the Maine attorney general’s office seeking advice about whether the investigation into Jones’ collision warranted a “Giglio review” of both Jones and Nadeau. In his communication with the attorney general’s office, the labor board said King alluded to “prior bad acts” committed by Jones but the record did not clarify to what King referred.
The labor board said the chief of investigations and chief prosecutor in the attorney general’s office were concerned about the deputies’ truthfulness and recommended further investigation and that the sheriff’s office contact the York County district attorney, Kathryn Slattery, who later decided she did not have enough information to proceed with a “Giglio determination.”
King continued his inquires into July, and in an email to the county’s attorney, county manager, the attorney general’s chief of investigations and the York County district attorney about Nadeau’s handling on Jones’ collision, he claimed that the internal investigation found a “lack of candor” with Jones, but the labor board said there were “no sustained findings to that effect.”
The board said that there was no evidence that the sheriff moved further with internal investigations into the collision.
The union argued that the “Giglio investigation” was connected to Jones’ election as union vice president on June 9, 2017, but the labor board found it failed to establish that the events were connected and that it could not “conclude the timing of the Sheriff’s contact [with the attorney general’s office] is indicative of a retaliatory motive.”
The board also found the union failed to put forward “persuasive” and “sufficient” to prove that the other actions were retaliatory.
‘Hostility and distrust’
Despite finding that the union presented no compelling evidence to prove retaliation against its members, the labor found evidence from both the union and the county showed a “tense labor-management relationship” at the sheriff’s office.
In its decision, the board pointed to statements made during testimony given at the hearing.
“The sheriff, right, wrong or indifferent, has a vision of where he wants the agency to go, and he’s not willing to bend or change that vision or work with the union. He wants it to go the way he wants it to,” Nadeau was quoted as saying in the decision.
Further, union representatives testified that employees were reluctant to serve on the executive board for “fear of putting a target on their back” and that there was difficulty in filling vacancies because of the perception that the sheriff “would look more favorably on an employee that was not a union person.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell was quoted as saying, “I’ve been told by a union leader that anything that we do, specifically the sheriff does, it’s going to be met with resistance.”
The board, which said it did not endorse the management style of the sheriff’s office, said that there is a narrative of “hostility and distrust” between the union and sheriff’s office that “may do harm to the effectiveness of the vital public service the office provides.”
“We strongly encourage both sides to make a more strenuous effort at compromise in order to avoid this potentiality,” the board concluded.
Both King and Fraternal Order of Police Labor Specialist Jack Parlon told the Journal Tribune that service to the public has not and will not be affected by disputes between the sheriff’s office and union.