AURORA| An Aurora police officer has been given his job back after being fired for several disciplinary infractions — including calling a man he shot a “marshmallow head” and babysitting his grandson on the job.
In a ruling Wednesday, the city’s Civil Service Commission overturned Officer Chris Falco’s firing, finding instead that Falco should be suspended for one week without pay and undergo counseling at the city’s expense.
City Attorney Charlie Richardson and Police Chief Dan Oates said the city will appeal the ruling to the Arapahoe County District Court.
“We believe the civil service commission overstepped its authority,” Oates said.
Richardson said the commission can’t, under the city’s charter, order the city to pay for Falco’s counseling.
Falco, 42, gained notoriety for his role last year after he and another officer opened fire on a group of thieves who tried to speed away from a parking lot where they were stealing auto parts. Oleg Gidenko was killed and Yevgeni Straystar wounded.
Prosecutors cleared Falco and the other officer of criminal wrongdoing in that case, but the city settled out of court with Gidenko’s family and Straystar, saying the officers violated a department rule against firing at moving vehicles.
Falco wasn’t fired specifically for his role in the shooting, but he was disciplined for calling Straystar a “marshmallow head” to another officer while discussing the city’s settlement.
That charge was one of four that led to Falco’s firing on March 8. In another incident, a fellow officer said Falco was rude to a 17-year-old girl after a car accident; in another, police said he was rude to a prosecutor shortly before a trial; and in the fourth complaint, he babysat his grandson while working security at the Aurora Municipal Center.
Falco appealed his firing and a 240-hour suspension to the city’s civil service commission during a five-day hearing last week. The hearing was closed to the public.
The commission ruled Wednesday that Falco’s only violation was babysitting his grandson and said he should be suspended 40 hours for it.
In the other instances, the commission said not only that Falco’s punishment was too harsh, but that he didn’t do anything wrong.
When he called Straystar, a “marshmallow head,” made other derogatory comments about him, Falco was just venting to other officers, the commission said. And when he was rude to the prosecutor, it came after a lengthy shift on a night when another officer was involved in a separate shooting, the commission said.
Richardson said he plans to recommend to city council that the city appeal the commission’s ruling on Falco’s discipline and their ruling that said he did nothing wrong.
Oates said Falco has been put back on the payroll, but will placed on administrative leave for an undetermined amount of time.
“He will not be in the workplace,” Oates said.
Falco has another disciplinary hearing pending because of the March 2011 shooting, Oates said. When Oates fired Falco in the spring, the Internal Affairs investigation into the shooting was complete, but Oates had not yet made a ruling on what discipline Falco would face in that case. Now that Falco has been reinstated, that ruling will come down fairly soon, Oates said.
Falco, who joined Aurora police in 2006 after 10 years with Denver police, has been disciplined before, including once when he used a slur toward his sergeant.
His lawyer, Brian Reynolds, did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Falco’s wife, JoAnn Falco, said Thursday that her husband’s firing was the result of bad blood between him and Chief Oates.
“The chief despises my husband,” she said.
JoAnn Falco said that if the city appeals the commission’s ruling or if they hand down further discipline for the shooting, her husband will fight that, too.
Asked why her husband would want to work in a department that already tried to fire him, and for a chief she says hates him, Falco’s wife said: “He loves his job and he loves what he does. He’s not going to be pushed away by anybody.”