Ravenna Police Department. Ben Wolford/The Portager
The Ravenna Police Department fired one of its officers nearly three years ago, but he’s still fighting for his job and a chance to clear his name.
After a recent appeals court ruling, the case will now head to arbitration, in which three years of back pay, benefits and possible reinstatement are at stake, according to the officer’s attorney.
Since being hired July 14, 2017, former Ravenna patrolman Chris Staple had served the department in a number of capacities, including as a school resource officer in the city schools. Students admired him and called themselves “The Staple Squad,” according to a 2019 profile in the Record-Courier.
But the department cited several problems when they fired him Oct. 15, 2020, according to Staple’s lawsuit, including insubordination, dishonesty during the initial employment background polygraph examination, deception or dishonesty in the internal investigation, and failure to exert common sense and promote the Ravenna Police Department’s values to the public.
Staple could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Stow lawyer S. David Worhatch, said his client denies all charges.
The insubordination charge, he said, stems from a charge that he disobeyed his superior’s order. Staple believed it was a suggestion rather than an order, and that Ravenna Police Chief Jeff Wallis misunderstood and backed the superior rather than the patrolman.
“Even if it was an order, he didn’t violate it,” Worhatch said, declining to provide any details. “The police chief has misunderstood or has incomplete facts.”
Ravenna Law Director Frank Cimino declined to comment on any specifics of the case.
The Fraternal Order of Police, a union which represents police officers, requested arbitration but may have missed a critical filing deadline requesting that proceeding. The city says the FOP missed the legal deadline, while Worhatch and union reps say the union did no such thing.
“Deadlines exist for a reason,” Wallis said.
Staple’s case wound through several courts, eventually landing in the 10th appellate court. On July 11, it ruled that the State Employment Relations Board (SERB), which handles public employees’ complaints that their rights have been violated, should not have dismissed Staple’s charge of unfair labor practices against the city.
Instead, Magistrate Joseph Wenger of the 10th District Court of Appeals ruled that SERB must issue more legal paperwork to force the city to proceed with binding arbitration. Now, thanks to the appellate court ruling, that arbitration will happen.
Ravenna and SERB have filed formal objections to Wenger’s decision, alleging that he erred in his ruling.
Barring additional delays, Worhatch said he has until Aug. 7 to file his response. The court will then rule on the objections, and the objections to the objections, and will render a final judgment, he said.
Two ifs: If the appellate court rejects SERB’s and the city’s reasoning, SERB will be obligated to file a complaint to force the city to arbitrate, Worhatch said. If Staple prevails in that arbitration, Ravenna may be obligated to reinstate him and pay about three years of back pay and benefits, Worhatch said.
Speaking for his client, Worhatch said Staple could not realistically pursue his career elsewhere as long as the shadows of insubordination and dishonesty followed him. He wishes to clear his name and get on with his life, Worhatch said.
Cimino said the city will evaluate the court’s decision and decide how to proceed.
“We feel as though the substance of the case is also an issue,” he said, declining further comment.
Staple’s case moved to the 10th District Court of Appeals because SERB is located in Columbus, which puts it under that court’s jurisdiction even though both Staples and Ravenna are under the 11th appellate court’s jurisdiction, Cimino said.