Eric Peters will become the first Schenectady police officer to endure a public disciplinary hearing — unless the union gets an injunction soon.
The Court of Appeals ruled two weeks ago that the city could hold public hearings. One week ago, the city notified the union that the next hearing, for Peters, will be public.
City officials said they expected the union to immediately file a protest with the state Public Employment Relations Board, asking for an injunction. However, the union has not yet made that request.
If PERB grants an injunction, it would force the city to hold its hearing behind closed doors. But in the years-long chess match between the city and the police union over discipline, getting PERB involved could give the city a significant advantage in the long run.
If PERB sides with the union, the city can appeal to the state’s court system, where judges at the top two levels have ruled in favor of the city’s arguments.
Union leaders have been reluctant to push PERB to a decision, leading Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden to speculate they don’t want him to take the issue to the courts. He thinks he has a good chance of winning there.
While the city waits, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett has used the threat of a public hearing to convince officers to accept his discipline — and thus avoid potential embarrassment at a hearing. Now, city officials said they are hoping one more threat will get the union to push PERB into a decision.
For now, Peters’ attorney is preparing for a public hearing, which he thinks could actually help his client.
“It’s probably time that the public realize it’s not a fair process to the police officer,” attorney Kevin Luibrand said. “It’s a preordained process.”
He noted that hearing officer Jeffrey Selchick, who was chosen by both the city and the union to handle all disciplinary cases, has ruled against officers repeatedly, calling for termination. He has only ruled in favor of one officer — and in that case, he later said the officer should be fired for a second, more serious offense.
Luibrand said the city doesn’t have a solid case against Peters, who is accused of punching his fiancee repeatedly while holding her hostage in a car. The woman did not sign a witness statement and has said, through her attorney, that her injuries were caused accidentally by a friend during a dance earlier in the day.
Officers interviewed bystanders who signed statements describing the incident. But Luibrand said they won’t be able to prove anything happened.
“They don’t have a victim on the case. They have half a dozen to a dozen people who say it didn’t happen as it’s alleged, and these are disinterested people. Some of them don’t even know Peters,” he said. “Maybe that’s something the public would want to know.”