The University of Akron police officer who shot and killed a motorist last week sued the college two years ago when he was ordered to undergo a psychological exam following an investigation into use of excessive force.
A judge in August dismissed the suit brought by Patrolman Aaron Burnette, a 16-year veteran of the department.
Burnette had sought damages from UA and police Chief Paul Callahan, who had fired Burnette in September 2009 after the officer was accused of using excessive force while making an arrest.
An arbitrator in June 2010 overturned Callahan’s decision and ordered Burnette reinstated to the department with back pay, court records show.
Burnette contended, however, that before he was allowed to return to duty, Callahan retaliated by ordering him to undergo psychological and medical exams, as well as additional training that included attending a firearms recertification course.
It is unclear if Burnette took the additional training.
Files not available soon
UA officials on Monday said it could be several days before Burnette’s personnel records would be available for review. Spokeswoman Eileen Korey for a fifth day declined to confirm Burnette as the officer who shot and killed 64-year-old James Genda during a traffic stop Thursday.
Other law enforcement sources, familiar with the investigation but not authorized to release the information, have confirmed Burnette’s identity.
The shooting remains under investigation by UA police.
Burnette told investigators after Thursday’s shooting that he fired several shots at Genda after the Akron man pulled what appeared to be a .45-caliber pistol while inside his car on Wolf Ledges Parkway. The weapon turned out to be a BB gun.
Burnette, 37, was walking toward Genda’s car when he saw the weapon and fired, officials said.
Officer is on paid leave
He remains on paid leave during the investigation. Efforts to reach him for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
Court records show Callahan failed to have Burnette removed from the force in September 2009 following the excessive-force investigation.
The university had alleged that Burnette improperly used his knee to strike a suspect who was “handcuffed and was not actively resisting” arrest. Burnette and another officer were working undercover at the time when they made a traffic stop in the parking lot of Taco Bell on East Exchange Street.
Just cause not found
The arbitrator found the university’s arguments for termination did not “withstand scrutiny for just cause” and ordered Burnette reinstated to the department with lost wages and benefits fully restored.
A UA spokeswoman in September 2010 said administrators were “disappointed in the outcome [of the arbitration case] and believe that the university had acted in the best interest of the university community.”
Afterward, instead of returning him to patrol duties, Burnette alleged that Callahan began a pattern of retaliation by imposing the medical and training requirements.
In January 2011, Burnette filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Affirmative Action office at UA over Callahan’s exam and training requirements and the sharing of those records among several university officials.
Assigned to dispatching
Burnette’s complaint said Callahan — after losing the arbitrator’s decision — assigned him to dispatching duties and took “every opportunity to prevent me from returning to my position as an officer ...”
In his complaint, Burnette said Callahan’s actions were “blatant harassment and retaliation for the chief losing the arbitration” and “Chief Callihan’s [sic] way of imposing a financial hardship.”
He further alleged in the complaint that Callahan “continues to retaliate by refusing to provide me with body armor, a firearm, badges or police department identification.”
In his subsequent lawsuit, Burnette said the requirements Callahan imposed were contrary to the arbitrator’s ruling that reinstated him to the force. Nonetheless, Burnette said he underwent the psychological and medical exams “under protest” for fear of losing his job.
He alleged university officials violated his rights by distributing the medical records to other offices and administrators at UA.
The UA EEO investigation found that the university did not violate Burnette’s rights.
However, Burnette filed a similar claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Cleveland, which provided him a “right to sue” letter.
Lioi dismisses lawsuit
Burnette filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in November 2011, seeking $500,000 in damages. Judge Sara Lioi dismissed the lawsuit after finding no violations by the university.
UA on Monday declined to comment about that case.