On Friday, August 25th, 2006, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning announced that he filed an appeal related to Robert Henderson, a Nebraska State Patrol trooper who has admitted affiliations with the Ku Klux Klan, after an arbitrator, Paul Caffera, ruled that the Patrol failed to show why the trooper was a threat.
According to Caffera's ruling, the case originated in 2003, when Henderson's wife left him for a Hispanic man (ultimately leading to divorce). Henderson is white. Out of vulnerability and frustration, he joined the Knights Party, a Klan-affiliated organization, in June 2004 in an effort to cope with his loss. He posted periodically on the organization's website under the screen name "White Knight NE". In one particular post, Henderson wrote about how his [new] fiance was being harassed by a black coworker and nothing was being done. He later wrote that "whites are losing their rights slowly. It's sad. I pray about it. I hope my prayers get answered."
However, in other posts, Henderson reportedly expressed interest in talking with other "white supremacists" in law enforcement. This attracted the attention of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in October 2005. They, in turn, tipped off the Nebraska State Patrol, reporting that someone identifying themselves on a white supremacist chat board as a Nebraska law enforcement officer posted that he was interested in talking with other white supremacists, particularly others in law enforcement. The tip triggered the investigation.
When confronted by his superiors in February 2006, Henderson immediately admitted to being a member of the Knights Party since June 2004. He was then terminated in March, even while the investigation itself continued. However, Henderson, an 18-year veteran of the State Patrol, appealed, and the arbitrator decided last week that he should be reinstated.
While the arbitrator, Paul Caffera, expressed his personal "disgust" at Henderson's decision to align himself with the Klan, in his 48-page report, Caffera stated that the Nebraska State Patrol failed to demonstrate why Henderson posed a threat to the public or to the State Patrol. He further stated that Henderson's termination was also not proven to be justified under terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Caffera also noted the following points:
(1). Public employees have broad protection of their political beliefs. Since the patrol provided no evidence that Henderson did anything wrong on the job, the arbitrator said, Henderson's firing violates his right to free speech. Specifically, Caffera said "It's very likely that ... the state patrol could have successfully defended the constitutionality of its decision to terminate (Henderson) by either showing some actual harm to its ability to maintain discipline and good order within the ranks, or by showing some actual diminution in the state patrol's ability to perform its police function".
(2). The State Patrol failed to meet deadlines set in its investigation of Henderson, and that suggested to him that the patrol did not think the trooper posed a serious threat on the job. "The snail's pace at which the investigation of (Henderson's) association with the Knight's Party Web site provides a clear and unambiguous signal that the agency did not seriously consider (Henderson's) activities to be a hindrance to his performance," the ruling stated. The ruling also directs the Patrol to reinstate Henderson within 60 days and pay him all back wages.
Attorney General Jon Bruning has filed a motion to vacate the arbitrator's decicision, taking a cheap shot at Caffera in the process. "Maybe a New York lawyer doesn't have a grasp on integrity, but (State Patrol) Col. (Brian) Tuma does, and I do and the governor does, and we don 't want this person on the staff," Bruning said. "We don't want the agency destroyed by a racist like Bob Henderson."
Bruning said Nebraska has a right to defend and protect its integrity. The decision came through binding arbitration and is generally tough to fight, but the Attorney General said he believes it was just a wrong decision.
State Patrol Commander Colonel Brian Tuma defended his agency's actions. While acknowledging that Henderson was never cited on the job for racial profiling or other racist actions, he defends the appeal of the arbitrator's reinstatement order by citing Henderson's association with the Klan as conduct unbecoming an officer. Both Tuma and Bruning said that Henderson isn't a welcome member of the state patrol.
"This is not Birmingham. This is not 1960. We have no interest in having racists in our ranks ... The First Amendment allows you to join disgusting groups ... but it does not allow him to be employed by the state of Nebraska as a state trooper. So he has a right to these thoughts, but we don't have to employ him," Bruning said.
Tuma further stated that the KKK's history of violence make a trooper's involvement with the organization suspect. He and Bruning said that the White Knights is known to be a non-violent group that was retooled in the 1990s after David Duke headed the organization. Nevertheless, "being affiliated with a white supremist (sic) organization is not consistent with the practices and policies of our agency," Tuma said.
One of Henderson's former immediate superiors, Sarpy County Chief Deputy Mike Jones, said that when Henderson worked for him in Troop A for 10 years, he was an average trooper. Jones called Henderson an "impulsive individual" but not someone who ever showed signs of being a racist. Jones further stated that Henderson had several disciplinary problems stemming from decision-making and judgment issues, and questioned whether Henderson could function as a law enforcement officer for any agency.
In an appalling display of personal vindictiveness, Bruning said he has contacted state Sen. Ernie Chambers to file paperwork to revoke Henderson's status as an officer so he can't work in another state. If successful, this would mean Henderson, despite his experience and talents, would not be able to work in his chosen profession anywhere in the United States.
Multiple media attempts to contact Henderson have been unsuccessful. However, Henderson's attorney, Vincent Valentino of York, NE, provided by the State Troopers Association of Nebraska, said his client quit the group and regrets joining. Valentino further stated that Henderson's membership and activities have been blown out of proportion. "Henderson wasn't running around in a sheet and hood," Valentino said. "He was on his own time, on his own private computer. And he never brought any of the activity to the work force." Valentino said that whatever Henderson may have done, state employees have a right to think what they want in private.
In a subsequent statement released today (Sunday), the State Troopers Association said it "shared the disgust" of those offended by a State Patrol trooper who belonged to a white supremacist group. But they also said they were contractually obligated to represent trooper Robert Henderson in the arbitration process because he was a member.
Analysis: Good decision by the arbitrator. No doubt Trooper Henderson's subsequent public renunciation of his Klan affiliation aided and abetted the positive finding in his favor. Too bad this arbitrator couldn't have been involved in the similar case of another Nebraskan, Dan Schildhauer, who was fired from his job at a Nebraska Cabela's outfit for distributing pro-white literature off the job, and who received no justice.
The Attorney General's reaction is purely vindictive. Jon Bruning's personal attack on the arbitrator's residency and his desire to destroy Henderson's ability to work in law enforcement anywhere in the United States demonstrates not only an unusually virulent form of personal animus, but is a form of economic warfare against Henderson. If Bruning wants to appeal, so be it, but his rhetoric shatters the bounds of professionalism.
Col. Tuma has proven to be nothing more than a Diversity Puppet for the system. Tuma freely acknowledges that there was never a hint of racism or racial profiling by Henderson on the job, and that Henderson never even spoke of the Klan on the job, but believes his mere "association" with the Klan was sufficient to disqualify him from continued employment, even though Henderson has 18 years on the job. The statement "Robert Henderson was not fired as a state trooper because he belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and another white supremacist group, but was ousted because he could not uphold public trust while participating in such groups" is an extremely disingenuous statement and a textbook example of Talmudic hair-splitting. Even the gentlest reader knows he was canned because he was part of the Klan. What's Tuma's next move? Will he witch-hunt his Latino troopers and fire those belonging to La Raza? What about black troopers? Will he fire the ones belonging to the NAACP? And......could this also have been a ploy to screw a trooper out of retirement to save the state some "chump change"?
There have been other high-profile cases of Americans losing their jobs because of off-the-job political activity. One of the most notorious is the case of former Allegany County (NY) ADA Michael Regan, amply documented in my blogpost of March 6th, 2006, entitled "The Creeping Criminalization Of Dissent
So what's the ideal solution? If the courts uphold the arbitrator and Henderson's reinstated, neither Vincent Valentino nor Paul Caffera will be there to hold his hand during every shift he works. You just know Henderson's bosses will make his life hell on earth. Some of his co-workers may give him the "Serpico" treatment, too. So the best solution would be not to forcibly reinstate him, but allow him to retire and collect retirement pay as if he'd served 20 years. Make sure his record's clean so he can get another law enforcement job elsewhere if desired. This way everybody goes home with a piece of the pie.
I also checked the Alaska State Troopers website and the Anchorage Police Department's website to see if an Alaska peace officer could be similarly victimized. The qualifications for both jobs include a basic nonspecific "morals clause" which could be used against any member who joins similar organizations.
Tags: politics , racism , profiling , brrreeeport , white supremacism , divorce