Under my authority as City Manager, this afternoon I signed a separation agreement with former police officer Matt Rush and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police that immediately and forever severs Rush’s employment with the City, and closes all pending employment grievances filed on his behalf. The agreement secures his permanent separation from the City, minimizes further legal expenses, avoids further litigation, and obtains a positive outcome for our community, the Police Department, and the City organization.
The City has been involved in three very public disciplinary cases related to Matt Rush. In August 2014, Police Chief Anthony Cobb terminated Rush for a number of Police Department policy violations. At that time, Rush exercised his rights under the grievance and arbitration process established by Illinois law and the City’s collective bargaining agreement with the Illinois FOP. In April 2015, the arbitrator in that case set aside Rush’s termination and reduced his discipline to multiple days of suspension, despite agreeing that Rush did commit the policy violations. The arbitrator’s binding decision obligated the City to return Rush to duty.
In April 2016, Rush was once again terminated for two independent reasons. First was for his inability to perform the essential functions of a police officer after Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz determined that she would no longer use him as a witness for the State in criminal cases. Then in a separate action, he was terminated for violations of department rules related to an off-duty incident that occurred at Fat City Bar and Grill in February 2016. Represented by the Illinois FOP, Rush again exercised his right to grieve both termination actions and appealed them to arbitration.
In September 2016, a hearing was held before Arbitrator Micheal Falvo on Rush’s termination for his inability to perform the essential functions of his job. Late last month, Falvo issued a decision reversing Rush’s discharge and ordering he again be reinstated to his position as a police officer. Falvo’s decision also required the City to compensate Rush with full pay and benefits back to the date of his termination. With the support of the City Council, the City Administration informed the Illinois FOP that the City planned to appeal Falvo’s decision to the circuit court.
A third arbitration hearing regarding Rush’s off-duty actions at Fat City was scheduled to take place tomorrow, but that termination grievance was withdrawn by the Illinois FOP as part of this separation agreement.
I continue to stand behind Chief Cobb’s decisions to terminate Rush in each of these cases. The Administration remains firm that its actions in response to Rush’s conduct have been fair and appropriate. Throughout this entire process, the City has taken care to ensure his due process rights, and consistently followed the terms of the City’s collective bargaining agreement and Illinois law. The City has expended significant personnel and financial resources as a result of Rush’s violations of Police Department policies. If the City would have moved forward with the third arbitration hearing and the planned appeal of Arbitrator Falvo’s decision, the City would have spent significantly more money on staff time and legal expenses. This would be in addition to any back pay or benefits that might be awarded to Rush if the City was not successful in these actions.
To succeed in an appeal of Falvo’s decision, the City would have to prove evidence of fraud, corruption, misconduct, or mistake in the arbitration process, or prove that the award violates a clearly defined and dominant public policy. Even if a court were to rule that Falvo made insufficient findings, the result could simply be that the case is remanded back to him for further proceedings. There was no guarantee, even if the City prevailed in its appeal, that Falvo’s ruling to reinstate Rush would be reversed.
Following Falvo’s decision, the City and the Illinois FOP engaged in negotiations to voluntarily resolve this matter, and a separation agreement was signed earlier this afternoon. The agreement includes a one-time, total monetary separation payment to Rush of $50,000 in exchange for his agreement to withdraw his grievance related to his termination for off-duty misconduct. His personnel record with the City will reflect that he was terminated from his employment effective April 13, 2016, and he will have no right to future reinstatement. In addition, he has released the City, its representatives, and State’s Attorney Rietz from any future claims or liability arising out of his employment or separation from employment.
The City is committed to moving forward and continuing to build strong police-community relations. I trust that our community will see this agreement as a positive step towards that goal. It is important to remember that the actions of one former employee do not reflect on the professionalism of the entire police force. I am proud of the dedicated men and women of the Champaign Police Department, and proud of all City employees who daily place the needs of our community above their own. I am also grateful for the support and partnership of citizens who regularly engage with the City to build trust, solve problems and create a better community for all.
Due to pending civil litigation to which Mr. Rush is a party, this will be the final public statement that the City Administration will make on this matter. The City will make the full text of this statement, as well as the separation agreement, available for public review on the City’s website for the next 30 days. After that time, these documents will be available to the public upon request per the terms of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Dorothy Ann David