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Arbitrator backs firing of Minnesota cop for sexting woman

This news story was published on February 16, 2012.
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Jim Adams, Star Tribune, Minneapolis –

The firing of a Hastings police officer for texting about sex with a female bar employee whom he met while on duty, arresting her ex-boyfriend while pursuing a relationship with her and other ethical violations has been affirmed by a state arbitrator.

In ruling Tuesday, the arbitrator said the city acted appropriately last July in firing Donald Farrington. The city had already given Farrington, 42, a second chance after he was convicted in a 2010 hit-and-run car crash that he falsely claimed had happened after he was carjacked at gunpoint.

“Ethics is a top priority in policing across the country,” Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell said. “We don’t expect perfection. People can make a poor decision. But at some point you have to make a decision on when enough is enough.”

According to allegations outlined in the arbitrator’s ruling, Farrington met the woman, 24, while doing bar checks at closing time in December 2010. By March 2011, they were texting daily, including during work hours, and Farrington sent several texts that were sexual in nature. At one point, he invited her to ride on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and texted: “You would look great in a bikini w/that petite little body of yours.”

One night, the woman complained that her ex-boyfriend, against whom she had a no-contact order due to domestic abuse, was out drinking while she had to watch her two young children. Farrington checked the man’s court-ordered release conditions, which included no drinking. He found the boyfriend at a bar and arrested him.

Then he texted her that it was “taken care of.” Later that night, he texted about sleeping over at her house and made sexual advances. But she turned him away.

The arbitrator’s ruling notes that police department policy prohibits officers from using “the authority of their position as peace officers” for personal reasons.

On another night, the officer allegedly watched the woman’s house from his squad car, looked up the license plate of a vehicle in the driveway that belonged to the woman’s friend, and sent her a text mentioning the friend’s name. He also allegedly offered to get a prescription sleep aid for the woman when she complained of insomnia, the report says.

On May 28, the woman filed a complaint with Hastings police.

“I feel there is a conflict of interest because he has arrested my children’s father, my brother and his girlfriend 1/8on a felony warrant]. I believe it’s because I led him on and would not pursue a relationship with him. I believe another officer should deal w/the issues,” her complaint states. She gave police transcribed text messages she received from Farrington.

After interviewing the woman, Farrington and others, Hastings police told Farrington he would be fired for violating numerous city and police policies and ethical standards. Among them were “personal and/or intimate relationships interactions” with persons he met while on duty and “conducting personal business, i.e. sending sexually charged text messages” during work hours.

Previous incident

Farrington was hired in Hastings in 2006. In April 2010, after drinking, he crashed his car into a telephone pole about 4 a.m. in St. Paul and fled. He called police a few hours later, claiming he had been carjacked. He later recanted and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. A charge of filing a false police report was dropped and insufficient evidence was found to charge him with drunken driving.

After the crash, Farrington agreed to undergo chemical abuse counseling and returned to his patrol work with the understanding that it would be his “last chance” for continued employment with the department.

Farrington said Tuesday that “I take full responsibility for all my actions. I don’t put the blame on anybody else.” Still, he said, “I think there could have been other ways to resolve the issue.” He said he has been alcohol-free two years.

The city argued that termination was the only sufficient remedy to Farrington’s ethical lapses, “given his continued disregard and violation of city and department policies and the laws of the state.”

Farrington, through his union, appealed the termination. After conducting a two-day hearing, state arbitrator Frank Kapsch Jr. sided with the department.

“Bad decisions incur bad consequences,” Kapsch wrote. “I find no evidence or other rational basis to justify” overturning the firing.

Farrington said the texting was consensual and he had no interest in the woman. He said his overtures were a ploy to develop her as a source of criminal information.

“There was nothing there for personal gain,” he said. Although she hurt his career, he said, “I have to move on. There is life after law enforcement.”

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