A former Faribault County deputy has lost his fight to have his termination last October overturned.
In a 16-page ruling, arbitrator Stephen F. Befort of the Bureau of Mediation Services denied Shane Dulac’s claim that he was fired without just cause.
Befort’s decision comes 11 months after Dulac filed a grievance with his union. And, Sheriff Mike Gormley says getting the case finally resolved is a relief.
“Oh my god, yes! It’s been a long process,” he says. “I thought we made the right decision based on the facts we knew.”
Gormley adds, “As law enforcement officers we are held to a higher standard in the public eye and I hold our people to that same standard.”
Dulac was fired for an incident that occurred the evening of March 26, 2015, at the Derby Inn Bar in Guckeen while he was off-duty and for pointing a loaded gun at four fellow deputies on six different occasions.
While at the Derby Inn, Dulac and three female employees of the Faribault-Martin County Human Services Department were having drinks when a man named Joe entered the bar.
After having a drink, the man reportedly displayed two Vicodin pills and offered to give them to anyone who would buy him a beer.
According to the three Human Services employees, Dulac suggested that they should make the trade so he could arrest the man.
Dulac denies making the request and testified during six days of arbitration hearings that he would contact an on-duty deputy to arrest Joe.
Later that night, one of the Human Services employees showed Dulac two Vicodin pills and explained she had obtained them from Joe in exchange for buying him a beer.
Dulac reportedly was shocked the employee had actually made the trade and told her to contact Chief Deputy Scott Adams the next morning to turn over the pills and tell him about the incident.
On April 3, Adams and the employee met and she told him that Dulac had encouraged a trade for the tablets. Gormley later that day placed Dulac on paid leave pending an investigation into the incident.
Gormley contacted Watonwan County to conduct a criminal investigation of the Derby Inn incident, but the county attorney decided not to pursue charges.
Following the criminal investigation, Gormley filed an internal affairs complaint against Dulac and contacted the Worthington Police Department to look into the matter.
Detective Dave Hoffman issued a report finding Dulac had engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer by enlisting participation of Human Services employees in a plan to obtain controlled substance pills from a criminal suspect.
Dulac also improperly handled evidence, says Hoffman, by failing to secure the pills.
Befort says the Human Services employees may have mistakenly interpreted Dulac’s “if he shows you something, I can arrest him” comment as a request to buy the man a drink in exchange for the pills.
“While Dulac exercised poor judgment by playing undercover detective while off-duty in a bar, it is not clear he directly engineered the unlawful barter,” says Befort.
Befort agrees with the county that Dulac failed to secure the pills as evidence of criminal behavior in a timely manner to obtain a search warrant.
“While that misstep warrants discipline, it is not substantial by itself to justify immediate discharge,” he says. “Accordingly, if this was the only misconduct at issue, I would not sustain the discharge penalty.”
During a firearms qualification exercise held May 2015, Deputy Chris Albers told the range instructors that two months earlier Dulac had pointed his loaded gun at him while they were in the sheriff’s office.
When the gun-pointing incident was reported to Gormley, three deputies came forward with allegations that Dulac also had pointed a loaded weapon at them. The incidents occurred between 2007 and 2014.
The Dakota County Attorney’s Office did not file charges following a criminal investigation. However, Wright County Lt. Annette Habisch-Peterson concluded that Dulac violated several county policies.
Peterson says Dulac’s conduct was unbecoming an officer and “created a dangerous and hostile work environment.”
During Peterson’s investigation, several deputies said they thought Dulac was joking around and they did not feel threatened by his actions. At the arbitration hearings, however, the deputies reported being fearful of Dulac and opposed his return to the force.
Two deputies said they no longer trusted Dulac and would resign if he returned to work while another said she would be “terrified” if he were back on duty. The union contends the deputies’ testimony was “the result of coaching.”
In a Notice of Intent to Terminate Employment dated Sept. 28, 2015, Gormley alleged the gun-pointing incidents, “made deputies and other officers uneasy and fearful to be around you.”
Dulac’s attorney Isaac Kaufman says his client did not intend to harm or threaten anyone and engaged the deputies with a playful or joking manner.
Kaufman argues county officials should have taken “progressive discipline” measures . He says Dulac should have been put on notice and given a chance to stop his unacceptable behavior
Befort says Gormley and Adams were unaware of the gun-pointing incidents, but took immediate action when learning about them.
Warnings and a pattern of increasing discipline, he says, are not required in instances of severe misconduct.
“Thus, an employer need not use progressive discipline when an employee commits serious misconduct such as theft or violence,” he says. “The same is true with respect to a law enforcement officer who points a loaded weapon at a co-worker.”
During the arbitration hearings, Dulac expressed remorse and took full responsibility for his actions.
Kaufman says Dulac is unlikely to repeat his gun-pointing behavior if reinstated, but county officials argue that his remorse is “too little and too late.”
Befort doesn’t doubt that Dulac is sorry for his actions, however, he believes that because of his past conduct other deputies have lost trust in his rehabilitation.
“Under those circumstances, I do not think that even genuine remorse is sufficient to repair the relationship between Deputy Dulac and the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office. I find that the county has carried its burden to show that discharge is an appropriate remedy in this case,” he says.