An arbitrator has ordered a Fort Lauderdale Police officer back on the force after he was fired for drinking and driving.
Officer Vince Falzone crashed his patrol car while driving off-duty at a Florida’s Turnpike exit by Sunrise Boulevard on Sept. 12, 2012. He had a blood-alcohol level well over the state limit, so the police chief and city manager fired him because of "deficiencies in performance and conduct.”
He was fired for crashing the car, not reporting the incident and instead leaving the scene, speeding, leaving his vehicle and its contents open, and engaging in conduct unbecoming of a police officer, records show.
But what happened in that early-morning crash was not so cut and dried. Falzone appealed his dismissal from the force for a unique reason: he claimed he was emotionally disabled from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Arbitrator Mark Scarr's recent ruling cites two emergency incidents that happened in consecutive weeks just before the crash: Falzone performed CPR on two small children, one of whom died.
"These two incidents plagued the Grievant for some time after they occurred … he would have bad dreams about these two children and they always had his two children's images superimposed,” Scarr wrote in his report.
"The elephant in the room is how much 'affect' the two children's incidents had on the Grievant's ability to function properly,” he added.
In one case, a child nearly drowned, and in the other a child choked on a balloon and died. Falzone said he had nightmares that he was working on his own children.
"I don't think the police department gave proper attention to the Grievant's mental condition after the two children's incidents,” Scarr wrote in his ruling.
The Fort Lauderdale Police Department would not comment.
Jack Lokeinsky, the president of the Fort Lauderdale Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 31, said the FLPD is sensitive to officers with PTSD or emotional issues. In this case, Falzone’s symptoms and conduct seemed to slip through the cracks and nobody realized it, Lokeinsky said.
A psychologist started treating Falzone after he was fired.
"She (the psychologist) testified that his heavy drinking the night of the accident was because of the two child incidents ... she testified that the Grievant had made significant improvement and was absolutely fit for duty,” Scarr wrote.
The arbitrator agreed, citing Falzone's long record of commendations. He was once officer of the month, and often praised for a job well done.
Officer Falzone has not been officially reinstated yet, but that will happen soon, according to the police union.