Cota’s actions damage public's trust in union - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Cota’s actions damage public's trust in union

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 4:15 am | Updated: 9:22 am, Sun Jun 12, 2011.

On Tuesday, East Valley residents were greeted with the news that Mesa Police Sgt. Fabian Cota had been busted by San Diego Police over the weekend for disorderly conduct involving alcohol and was hauled off to the drunk tank to sober up.

According to the police report, Cota was taken into custody Saturday night after screaming at officers who confronted two women Cota was with who appeared too intoxicated to drive. Under California's public intoxication laws, Cota was not booked into jail or charged because he agreed to be held for four hours for detoxification and paid a $50 fee.

Cota, who is also the president of the Mesa Police Association, has been placed on administrative reassignment by Mesa police while the incident is being investigated.

Cota reportedly makes $88,420 a year and receives an additional $12,000 per year for being the union president. He had been assigned a desk job and was allowed to work on union labor negotiations 30 hours a week while getting paid by taxpayers. The MPA is in negotiations with Mesa on a memorandum of understanding on pay and benefits. His on-duty union work was suspended after his arrest.

The incident in San Diego is not the first time Cota has gotten in hot water with his superiors. Last fall, Cota was suspended for two days without pay and put on one-year probation upon allegations of untruthfulness during an investigation of his conduct prior to an employee vote selecting the MPA over the Fraternal Order of Police as the bargaining agent for officers.

In 2009, Cota was reprimanded "for careless or neglectful handling of a firearm" after leaving behind his Glock at city hall following a meeting.

Last May, Cota told the Tribune the police department and the city were dealing with him differently during these investigations because he is Hispanic, and he was considering suing because he felt the city "violated his civil rights and were racially motivated." Two days later he decided not to sue.

But Cota has sued in the past.

Cota and the MPA sued Mesa in an effort for officers to get paid overtime to get dressed for work - the so-called "donning and doffing" lawsuit. They wanted officers to receive eight hours of overtime per month and back pay of $6.9 million.

The case was thrown out of federal court in Phoenix and tossed by a federal appeals court but not before Mesa residents shelled out $348,479.79 in attorney fees and costs.

That money could've paid the first-year salary for seven police officers.

Cota, who is also the vice president of the statewide Arizona Police Association, has provided a steady stream of entertainment to Mesa residents, the mayor and city council, police department and police officers throughout Arizona. Unfortunately his latest antics will only add to the lingering questions employers and the public have about labor organizations and their advocacy for police officers.

Now more than ever public safety labor groups need a strong trust relationship with employers and the community they serve if they expect to have a leadership role and effective input on matters of community public safety.

The Mesa police department will do yet another investigation on Sgt. Cota. I have no idea what the outcome will be. His probationary status means punishment could be another suspension or even termination.

Regardless of the punishment, Cota's latest stunt has already done more damage to the credibility of the Mesa Police Association and the trust relationship Mesa residents have with the Mesa Police Department than even a public flogging of Cota could repair.

• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

• Editor's note: Bill Richardson was a founding member of the Mesa police union but has not been involved with the union or the Fraternal Order of Police in over 20 years.

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