Update (Dec. 6): The Brookfield Police and Fire Commission ruled 4-1 to uphold a 4-day suspension of an officer for failing to properly restrain a prisoner in the back of a squad.
Commissioners said Officer Sarah Mork should serve two days immediately and the other two days would be held in abeyance for a year and not served if there are no other problems. This is the same discipline imposed by a second officer in the case, Officer Rick King, who did not appeal it to the commission.
The suspect was a heroin addict going through withdrawal, thrashing and erratic and who had said he didn't want to go to jail. He had caused problems at Elmbrook Memorial Hospital, but was not overtly combative or threatening to the officers, according to testimony from the officers. They said they thought getting him to the secure jail would be safer than pulling over one to two miles away from the jail to re-seatbelt him after they heard his seatbelt unclick during the drive.
Stay tuned to Brookfield Patch for a full story on the case and the hearing testimony.
Original story (Oct. 10):
A Brookfield police officer failed to properly seatbelt a prisoner in the back of her squad before and after she backed the squad into a concrete pole, says the police chief who imposed a four-day suspension on her.
Officer Sarah Mork is challenging the suspension before the city's Police and Fire Commission.
The prisoner did not escape and was taken to the Waukesha County Jail. But the prisoner did manage to manipulate the handcuffs from his back and "nearly succeeded in getting his hands in front of him," Police Chief Dan Tushaus said in a Statement of Charges obtained by Patch under an open records request.
Tushaus ordered Officer Mork and her backup officer, Rick King, to each serve a four-day suspension for the March 24 incident. King accepted the suspension, but Mork is appealing it to the commission.
Tushaus declined to comment. Andrew Schauer, staff attorney for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association which serves as the city's police union, said Wednesday morning that he would not comment before the commission hears the appeal.
Officer has prior discipline
The chief's charges say that Mork, who has been with the department since 1984, has a history of disciplinary problems.
"Beginning in March of 1996 with a letter of warning for improper operation of her vehicle, Officer Mork has received disciplinary action for, among other things, neglect of duty, insubordination, untruthfulness, misconduct, discourteous behavior and reporting late for duty," the charges state.
In June 2010 she was suspended for three days for violating department rules related to "unsatisfactory behavior and conduct unbecoming an officer," the charges allege.
The chief urged the commission: "The message that must be sent, both to Officer Mork as well as to other officers in this agency, is that properly securing prisoners not only protects officer safety as well as the safety of the prisoners we are responsible to secure, but it also protects the city from liability and ensures compliance with state law."
The commission will hear the case Thursday.
Prisoner in back of squad during crash
According to the chief's disciplinary charges:
On March 24, Mork and King were transporting a male prisoner from Elmbrook Memorial Hospital to the Waukesha County Jail. The prisoner was handcuffed and put in the back of the squad but was not seatbelted.
As Mork backed up the squad, she hit a concrete pole. The prisoner had worked his cuffs from his back and was close to getting his hands in front of him, the charges allege.
A supervisor was called due to the accident, for which Mork received a departmental performance report for the recorded "preventable accident, and the lieutentant noticed the prisoner wasn't seatbelted.
After the prisoner was checked for injuries after the accident, he was again cuffed, put in the back of the squad and this time, seatbelted, the charges allege.
But on the drive to the jail, Mork and King heard a "click" and did not stop to re-belt the prisoner, instead driving on the remaining 1.7 miles to the jail.
Officer cites 'special circumstances'
The charges allege that Mork said there were "special circumstances" that negated the need for a four-day suspension. She said the squad's configuration made it difficult to secure seatbelts and that in this case, belting the prisoner could have jeapordized officer safety. She also said other officers have failed to seatbelt prisoners in the past.
Tushaus said Mork could have called for backup assistance, but did not. He said she has routinely seatbelted prisoners in that configured squad, and that she gave no examples of other officers not restraining prisoners in seatbelts.
The chief asked the commission to approve a "minimum" suspension of four days "plus any further discipline the commission deems necessary 'for the good of the service.'"