Fort Wayne Police Officer Scott Morales will keep his badge, the city's Board of Public Safety ruled Monday, electing to suspend the 20-year veteran for the 15th time rather than grant Chief Rusty York's petition to fire him over a complaint of excessive force.
Morales began serving a three-month unpaid suspension Monday.
Responding to York's termination request, the board in early May held a fact-finding hearing to look into allegations that Morales used excessive force against a suspect he was transferring to St. Joseph Hospital in February. During the trip, the board found evidence that Morales shoved the suspect's head against a door, choked him and slammed his head onto a hospital gurney, in addition to calling the suspect his “bitch” and saying he was in Morales' “home.”
During the hearing, Morales acknowledged “for the street, I'm done. I really am.”
The board Monday found that Morales was guilty of excessive force, and that when weighed in addition to his “more recent disciplinary record,” Morales' behavior and conduct “reflects a pattern of behavior not acceptable to the Fort Wayne Police Department.”
In conjunction with the suspension leveled on him, to save his job, Morales entered into a formal agreement with York to remain in the investigative division he transferred into three weeks ago for the remainder of his career.
“Based on that agreement, I think the Board of Public Safety felt comfortable in suspending him 90 days without pay,” York said. “That apparently addressed some of the concerns they had about his remaining with the police department.”
York said that while he petitioned for Morales' termination, he respects the board's decision to hand down another suspension, and said he's “satisfied.”
The decision to fire an officer lies entirely with the four-member citizen board; the chief's authority is maxed at a five-day suspension.
Morales' 90-day suspension will include only working days. He will not receive insurance or benefits during the suspension, and the time will not count toward his pension or retirement.
Morales, hired Dec. 17, 1990, has served 14 suspensions since 1991, including twice for improper conduct and once previously for excessive force, and received eight letters of reprimand. Conversely, he has been awarded a letter of commendation and award of excellence, both in 2002.
Wearing a dark suit, Morales, with his young son seated behind him in the conference room in police headquarters at 1320 E. Creighton Ave., did not speak at Monday's hearing, and left swiftly after the ruling. He declined to comment on the proceedings.
Questioned about what it takes for an officer to lose his or her badge, York said “we're working within the system,” saying the decision lies with four board members who are average citizens – a schoolteacher, an attorney, a retiree and a restaurant owner. York did not seem overly pleased with the proceedings, but he respected the board's ruling.
“I hope it all works out,” York said.
Upon his return from suspension, Morales will rejoin the force as a detective, having interactions primarily with witnesses to gather information.