Cop who snatched body part wins reinstatement

by Walter Olson on January 23, 2007

Annals of public employee tenure, this time from Norwalk, Ct.: “The city will not appeal a state Labor Department ruling to reinstate police Officer Liam Callahan, a nine-year veteran fired last fall for taking a skull fragment from the scene of a May 2005 accident. ‘The laws in the state are such that it’s extremely difficult to overturn a ruling,’ Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr said yesterday after discussing the matter in executive session with the Norwalk Police Commission.” According to numerous press reports, co-workers of Callahan’s said he planned to use the skull fragment as an ashtray. An investigation concluded that Callahan’s statement after being confronted that he had intended to return the fragment was not credible. (Created Things (Jeff Hall), Jan. 16; Brian Lockhart, “City officer in skull-fragment case reinstated”, Stamford Advocate, Oct. 24). And on the sued-if-you-do, sued-if-you-don’t front, note well: “Callahan and the city still face a civil lawsuit from [victim Alfred] Caviola’s family.” Unless Callahan personally turns out to provide a deep pocket, it appears the longsuffering taxpayers of Norwalk may find themselves on the hook for who knows what sort of payout — juries in other cases have expressed outrage at mishandling of decedents’ remains — even as the city is unable to sever the actual perpetrator of the act from its payroll.

{ 6 comments }

1 Deoxy 01.23.07 at 10:14 am

And they probably won’t be able to use the fact that they can’t fire him to defend themselvs from liability from his actions, either.

MORONS.

2 Lanza 01.23.07 at 11:09 am

I don’t get your “sued if you do/sued if you don’t” position. The cop was reinstated because a cop needs to be fired for cause. Reading between the lines, cause appears to be ennumerated by the law (i.e., cause includes, shooting innocent people, hiding evidence, etc. etc.). When the cop got fired he appealed, no doubt, and when he did so, the other side contended that he was fired for “cause” and relied on what would be an ennumerated reason (that the cop tampered with evidence). But, of course, a piece of someone’s skull in this case is hardly evidence (esp. if this is just an accident) and thus, the cop was reinstated. All of this has to do with the deal between the police union and the city that outlines the reasons why a cop can be fired for misconduct. Perhaps the Police Union go the better of that deal, but that has little to do with being overlawyered.

And then with regards to the piece of skull. I am not sure that a suit like is worth anything. What are the damages??? My loved one is broken into a thousand pieces and one of those pieces went missing. Oh, wow, I’m sure they will get $1.5 mil in damages. In fact where are the damages here? BTW, Is there any evidence that a suit has been filed to begin with?

To put it simply, what does any of this have to do with being “overlawyered”.

3 jb 01.23.07 at 12:26 pm

Lanza: The culprit does seem to be the police union contract. If a regular employee exposed his employer to legal liability by violating workplace rules, he’d be fired. The fact that the city can’t do that in this case is a problem.

Also, one might say that the suit against the city over the removal is frivolous (I don’t think it is–the cop’s actions and plans are highly disrespectful). In any event, the city had rules against that sort of thing and attempted to discipline the perpetrator, and so should not be named a defendant in the suit. Furthermore, no economic damages were done so any amount awarded ought to be small.

4 E-Bell 01.23.07 at 2:42 pm

Suits for messing around with a loved one’s remains are not unheard of, though the defendant is usually a funeral home.

That kind of conduct is so outrageous that courts will usually recognize a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

5 Lanza 01.23.07 at 6:31 pm

E-Bell: I see your general point but I am not 100% sure that this is the same situation. After all, society has a lot of interest in preventing funeral directors from say… having sexual relations with a lifeless body, for a host of reasons (sorry for the example). But, a piece of the skull? Not so sure. In these situations, it is generally refuse. (Maybe there is a biohazard arguement here but that too would require damages.)

6 E-Bell 01.24.07 at 3:13 pm

I don’t know, Lanza. The piece of skull was evidently big enough to use as an ashtray. I’d be awfully upset if someone did that with a piece of one of my family members.

I mean, it’s not as distasteful as necrophilia, but I think we can both agree that it’s offensive.

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