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updated: 5/21/2013 2:00 PM

Des Plaines to fight arbitrator's ruling calling for fired cop's reinstatement

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Des Plaines is going to fight a police arbitrator's ruling that the city should reinstate former police officer John Bueno, who was fired in March 2012 for misconduct, officials said this week.

Bueno, a 10-year veteran of the Des Plaines police department, was fired after an internal investigation into allegations that he used excessive force against detainees. The city investigation concluded that Bueno violated the city's policy for use of force, failed to disclose his use of force, and lied about it during the investigation.

The police union arbitrator upheld the city's determination that Bueno violated the department's rules and regulations, according to a memo from Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner and City Manager Mike Bartholomew to the city council Monday.

"The arbitrator upheld every charge filed by the city against Bueno and agreed that the city had just cause to discipline Bueno for violating these rules," Kushner wrote in the memo. "However, rather than upholding the termination of Bueno's employment, the arbitrator gave Bueno a 15-month suspension and placed conditions on his return to duty."

The arbitrator ordered Bueno's reinstatement effective June 3, the memo read.

"I think bringing him back would be incredibly detrimental to the police department and the city of Des Plaines," Kushner said Tuesday, adding that reinstating Bueno would run contrary to what he has tried to accomplish in the past several months since taking the helm to clean up problems within the department.

Kushner said even if Bueno is rehabilitated, his credibility to testify on criminal matters would be subject to attack, and returning him to duty would place the city at further risk.

"His reinstatement sends the wrong message to our residents who demand, expect, and deserve a police force that is professional, accountable, and committed to working with members of the community on public safety issues," Kushner wrote in his memo.

Kushner said the city council Monday night authorized outside counsel to file a motion in Cook County circuit court to vacate the arbitrator's ruling calling for Bueno's reinstatement.

It will likely take six to nine months before the court rules on the city's motion, which is in the process of being filed, Bartholomew said.

"We were really surprised that an arbitrator would validate all of the charges that we brought, and then still return him to work," Bartholomew said. "That's just bad public policy. Fighting it is the only thing to do."

Keith Karlson, an attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union representing Bueno against his dismissal, said Tuesday "we believe that the arbitrator's decision was appropriate and should be affirmed by the court."

Bueno also was named a defendant in two lawsuits against the city and its police department that have since been settled by the city's risk management pool, Municipal Insurance Cooperative Association, Kushner said.

In one of the lawsuits filed in federal court, Bueno and a fellow patrol officer, Andy Contreras, were accused of beating a DuPage County man while transporting him to the Des Plaines police station.

Sergio Toutges claimed the officers intimidated, threatened and beat him while he was handcuffed and in their custody. The officers were transporting Toutges from the Elmhurst police station where he had been detained Aug. 12, 2010, on a Des Plaines arrest warrant for attempting to run over an officer. Toutges' suit also claimed that city officials knew about previous acts of physical abuse of prisoners and false reports filed by Bueno and failed to discipline him.

The city initially suspended Bueno and Contreras in October 2011 on charges of internal misconduct stemming from that encounter. Charges against Contreras were later dropped after he and the city reached a settlement in April 2012. He rejoined the force in August 2012 after a four-month suspension.

The settlement in that case was reached a few months ago for $64,000, Bartholomew said.

In October 2012, the city reached an out-of-court settlement in another lawsuit filed in 2009 by a resident claiming she was falsely arrested and mistreated by three police officers, including Bueno. That settlement was for $32,500.

Meanwhile, Bueno has filed a racial discrimination complaint against the city with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that a superior officer made derogatory and insensitive comments about his Hispanic heritage. That complaint is pending.

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