An arbitrator Thursday ordered the city of Newton to reinstate Matthew Cummings as police chief, almost a year to the day after Mayor Setti Warren fired him for “conduct unbecoming.”
The opinion, provided by Cummings’s lawyer, Timothy M. Burke, also orders the city to pay Cummings back pay, minus any unemployment benefits or interim earnings.
”We’re ecstatic,” said Burke. “Frankly, I think it’s outrageous what was done to Chief Cummings by the city -- the city that he has served with distinction for over 30 years. He’s, in my opinion, a decent and honorable person and deserved better. He’s looking forward to being reinstated.”
City solicitor Donnalyn B. Lynch Kahn said, however, that Cummings will not be reinstated. Though he was originally fired by Warren on Oct. 11, 2012, the city terminated him again on Sept. 16 of this year under a different portion of his contract that allows for termination without cause in the fifth year, she said.
“The arbitrator can order him back, but there’s no job to go back to,” said Kahn.
Burke sharply disagreed, saying Cummings should be allowed to serve out the full five-year contract until it expires.
“We plan to enforce this in a legal proceeding,” said Burke, who said he will seek a court injunction compelling the city to reinstate his client “as soon as humanly possible.”
“We also intend to file a suit for wrongful discharge, so they can prepare themselves for that,” he said.
Cummings had been chief since 2009, but was with the department for more than 30 years. He earned a salary of $168,737 last year.
Kahn said that Cummings has been receiving 80 percent of that salary as his retirement since he was first fired. She said the city has not yet decided whether to fight the directive to pay back-pay.
“We’re still considering whether we’re going to file any motions or appeals on the decision itself,” said Kahn. She said there was “no way” Burke would win an injunction.
Warren originally fired Cummings after a report conducted by an outside investigator found that he had behaved “boorishly” to female employees, kicking and swearing at police secretary Jeanne Sweeney Mooney and calling a pregnant police officer “fat.”
The complaints against Cummings surfaced after Sweeney Mooney was accused of stealing cash and checks totaling more than $2,000 from the department in September of 2011 and placed on paid administrative leave. Sweeney Mooney, who was acquitted of larceny over $250 in May of this year, sued the city in federal and state court, claiming she was set up on phony theft charges after clashing with Cummings. Sweeney Mooney returned to work last month.
The arbitration opinion describes the allegations against Cummings as “a credibility contest between two senior members of the Police Department: a highly decorated, but relatively new, Police Chief with 32 years tenure in the Department and his assistant, a 30-year Executive Administrator who worked under five Chiefs prior to Chief Cummings.”
The opinion states that tension within the department began when Cummings became chief in 2009 and put a stop to “improper” time and leave practices by some employees, including Sweeney Mooney. The tension eased with time, according to the opinion, but flared up again in Sept. 2011 with the theft charges against Sweeney Mooney; eight months later, the report notes, she made her allegations against Cummings.
The opinion finds that the kicking incident, in which Mooney accused Cummings of kicking the shoe off her foot and drawing blood, was an “awkward and unfortunate” bad joke, but that Cummings had no bad intent.
The opinion finds the credibility of Sweeney Mooney’s allegations that Cummings swore at her -- calling her a “bitch” and a “whore” -- to be “suspect,” noting that they were made only after she was under investigation for theft. No other witnesses, the opinion says, corroborated that Cummings used that language. The decision finds Cummings’s credibility “unimpeached.”
The opinion also found that Cummings did not intend to hurt a pregnant officer’s feelings when he commented on her body.
Warren could not immediately be reached for comment. Neither Sweeney Mooney nor her attorney attorney could immediately be reached for comment.
Kahn said that the arbitration opinion was not a major issue for the city.
“While this could have the appearance of something big, we’re working on a ton of other cases, we’re not even focused on this at all,” said Kahn. “It’s a non-issue. We’ll decide whether we’ll fight the money and that’s pretty much it.”
Burke said that the past year has put a “tremendous burden” on Cummings and his family.
”Obviously, to be publicly vilified by the mayor’s office is something that nobody should have to go through,” said Burke. “And to be publicly terminated like that? But this is clearly a vindication of each and every allegation that was made against him.”
Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com