Appeals Court Orders Fired Owasso Cop To Be Reinstated
OWASSO, Oklahoma - WARNING: The video accompanying this story is unedited and contains profanity.
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed a lower court's ruling and ordered the city of Owasso to reinstate a police officer fired for striking a man during an arrest.
On Tuesday, April 15, 2014, the court ruled in favor of Mike Denton, who was fired after an arrest on June 30, 2011.
Denton and two other officers arrested Bryan Spradlin that day after answering a call about an intoxicated man creating a disturbance at an apartment complex.
The arrest was videotaped by cameras on the officers' lapels and showed Denton step on Spradlin's head and then strike Spradlin in the face with his elbow three separate times.
Denton told News On 6 that he was protecting himself when he struck Spradlin.
The city eventually fired Denton. The Fraternal Order of Police and Denton filed a grievance which was heard by federal mediator David Valverde in March of 2012.
Valverde ruled in favor of Denton, saying that he [Denton] "used unreasonable and unnecessary force against [Spradlin]. However, the discipline imposed is excessive under all circumstances." Valverde ordered the termination changed to a written reprimand and Denton given back pay and benefits.
Rather than abide by the arbitrator's order, the city filed suit against Denton and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #149.
The city argued that the arbitrator exceeded the authority granted him under the collective bargaining agreement between the FOP and the city and that because Denton used unreasonable force on an arrestee, reinstating him would violate Oklahoma public policy.
Judge Dana Kuehn ruled in the city's favor on January 8, 2013, but Denton and the FOP appealed.
On April 15, 2014, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed Kuehn's decision. In an opinion written by presiding judge Larry Joplin, the appeals court said the trial court erred in vacating the arbitrator's decision. It said there was no public policy impediment to reinstating Denton.
Denton's attorney, James Patrick Hunt, said he expected the ruling and that he and his client are happy with it.
"The law was on our side. The law is pretty clear," Hunt said.
He doesn't know yet if the city of Owasso plans to appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court but said even if it does there's no guarantee the high court would agree to hear the case.
Tuesday night the city of Owasso released a statement about the opinion.
"We are disappointed in today's ruling and evaluating our options," said Owasso City Manager Warren Lehr.