No new discipline, MOU extended in Meister Case
- Published: March 14, 2019
Yellow Springs Police Officer David Meister will not face additional discipline after a ten-week investigation into his professional behavior on the night of a fatal shooting in the village in December, according to the Village last week.
In a letter to Officer Meister on Wednesday, Feb. 27, Village Manager Patti Bates wrote that while she didn’t agree with the findings of third-party hearing officer Jeffrey Hazlett, she could not impose further discipline after Hazlett found that Meister did not violate any local policies by not responding to a call about a shooting while off duty but still at the station.
“… I have no choice but to accept the determination that Village policies do not expressly state that an officer — in uniform, on the premises and able to assist a fellow officer — is expected to respond to any call for service related to an emergent situation in which public safety and the safety of a fellow officer may be at risk,” Bates wrote.
Although Meister will not receive additional discipline, a six-month performance improvement plan stemming from Meister’s 2018 discipline will be extended an additional six months, or through August. Bates explained in her letter that the extension was due to the delay in completing mediated sessions between Meister and Police Chief Brian Carlson.
The Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, includes the provision that if its goals are not met, Meister could be fired, Bates notes in her letter.
MOU extension at issue
Last Thursday, Feb. 28, Meister’s attorney, Dave Duwell, filed a grievance with the Village over the disciplinary ruling. In the grievance, Duwell wrote that the extension of the MOU was a disciplinary action, despite Hazlett’s clear recommendation that no discipline should be imposed.
Reached by phone last week, Duwell said that since Meister was found not to have done anything wrong, he should not be subject to an MOU over an additional six months. The original MOU was set to expire in March.
“The fact that she extended the MOU another six months — my position is that that was disciplinary,” Duwell said of Bates’ action.
Although technically not considered probation, the extended MOU “could be treated that way,” leading to Meister’s eventual termination, Duwell suggested. But when it comes to continuing mediated sessions between Meister and Chief Carlson, Duwell said he and his client are not opposed to the idea.
“Do I think they should meet? Yeah. Do I think [the MOU] should be extended for six months? No,” he said. “If something happens within those six months of the MOU, that can propel Mr. Meister out of the department.”
Meister declined to continue mediated sessions with Chief Carlson and a third party in January, according to emails the Village submitted at last month’s pre-disciplinary hearing. Prior to that, the two had met twice in mediated sessions since September, when the 2018 MOU was signed. That MOU says meetings should be “regular.”
Duwell said last week that the sessions were delayed due to unforeseen issues on both sides, including an illness and a family matter, and ultimately halted when Meister said he “felt uncomfortable with the mediator.”
By phone this week, Village Solicitor Chris Conard said that part of the delay in completing the 2018 MOU was due to the new disciplinary process getting underway. The period during which Meister was being investigated “wasn’t a conducive environment for mediations,” he explained.
Bates addressed the discontinuation in her letter, explaining that it is the reason behind her decision to extend the MOU six months.
But any charge that Meister may have violated the 2018 MOU is “inaccurate,” Duwell wrote, as the prior MOU mandated third-party mediations between Meister and Carlson were not presented as mandatory.
“This was addressed at the [pre-disciplinary] hearing and there was unanimous agreement that David did not violate the MOU by refusing to meet with this social justice mediator,” Duwell wrote.
When it comes to the new MOU, Bates clarified in her letter that the third-party mediator sessions are “mandatory, not optional” and will occur twice each month. Separate mentoring sessions with Carlson will proceed twice each month, she added.
More from the disciplinary letter
Bates’ six-page letter to Meister also lays out a timeline of the incident in question, reviews the investigation process and reaffirms the Village’s initial position that Meister violated several Village and YSPD policies by not assisting on-duty Officer Paul Raffoul to the scene of the shooting.
“It was a responsibility that you should have felt compelled to share with Officer Raffoul,” Bates wrote.
Bates laid out the facts as she saw them: Meister’s decision to not go led to Raffoul being the only law enforcement officer on the scene for 11 minutes and having to deal with “securing evidence and handling crowd control with only the assistance of unarmed emergency medical personnel,” she wrote.
“… As a long-time law enforcement officer, you should fully understand what that means and also fully understand that one officer cannot easily secure a shooting scene alone,” Bates wrote.
Bates also wrote that she believes Meister was “not truthful” in several statements made about the incident during the disciplinary process and that his actions have made her question his “objectivity and critical-thinking skills.”
And Bates expressly states that she disagrees with many of Hazlett’s findings, including his timeline of events, and that she believes he interpreted portions of policies rather than the policies as a whole.
Because Hazlett found YSPD policies ambiguous, Bates has instructed Chief Carlson to work on new policy, she wrote in the letter. Ahead of that official change, Carlson issued a “policy directive” to YSPD staff via email on Feb. 21.
That directive reads, “If you are in uniform on the premises and able to assist your fellow officer/s for any call for service related to an emergent situation where public safety and the safety of your fellow officer may be at risk, I expect you to respond without question.”
It further explains that an officer does not need to contact a supervisor and their overtime would not be questioned if they responded.
At the end of her letter, Bates puts the onus on Meister to “work diligently to repair” relationships with fellow officers and Village employees who had difficulty “accepting [his] decision to not respond in this situation.” Those individuals, Bates notes, are afraid to speak publicly about their concerns because of fears of retribution, making it necessary for Meister to “seek out these people and encourage them to speak to you truthfully,” Bates wrote.
“While some citizens have come forward to support your actions, I have been contacted directly by numerous business owners, residents and employees of the Village who strongly disagree with your actions,” she wrote.
Duwell criticized the tone of Bates’ letter and was especially upset by references to unnamed officers and other employees who disagreed with Meister’s actions. In his grievance letter, Duwell calls that part of the letter “inappropriate and also disciplinary in nature as it seeks to cast Officer Meister in a false light in the community and very importantly with his fellow police officers.”
Overall, much of the language will serve to create more division in the community — and within the YSPD — Duwell believes.
“I just don’t think it was wise to stir up everybody,” Duwell said. “I assume the people who like Dave got upset when they read it, and the people that don’t like Dave will be emboldened by it.”
Duwell said that instead of writing the lengthy letter detailing her disagreement with the Hazlett findings and “publicly disparaging” Meister, Bates could have met with Meister one-on-one so that the Village and the officer could begin to move forward.
“It’s just not necessary,” Duwell said of the letter. “When’s it going to be over?”
Conard said that Meister and the Village will soon meet to discuss and hopefully resolve the recently filed workplace grievance over the letter. Conard believes the meeting will help “clear the air.” Overall, a grievance process “doesn’t have to be adversarial,” he said.
“I think it will further de-escalate what was a tense situation,” Conard said.