Duluth asks Supreme Court to review officer case
The saga of officer Adam Huot will continue for the foreseeable future.
The city of Duluth has asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to take on the case of a police officer who was reinstated to his position after officials fired him for dragging a handcuffed man through the downtown skywalk system.
The city on Wednesday filed a petition for review in the case of Adam Huot, whose termination was overturned by an arbitrator in June 2018. A district judge and the Minnesota Court of Appeals both declined to reverse the arbitrator's findings .
Huot, a nine-year veteran of the force with six substantiated complaints on his record, was seen on body camera video dragging a homeless man down a hallway, slamming his head against a door, in the May 2017 incident. He also did not report the use-of-force to supervisors, as required by department policy.
When administrators learned of the incident from fellow officers, they moved to fire Huot. But the union challenged the action. Arbitrator Mario Bognanno called the officer's actions "unreasonable" but said there was no "just cause" for termination, reinstating Huot after a 13-month unpaid suspension .
Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden and a three-judge appeals panel subsequently rejected the city's motion to vacate the arbitrator award.
While it's rare for a court to reverse an arbitrator, the city argued Bognanno's findings violated a "well-defined and dominant public policy" against the use of excessive force by police officers. The appeals court agreed that Huot's actions were "contrary to a public policy," but the judges said the arbitrator's award of reinstatement without back pay was not.
The appeals court also questioned whether the public-policy exception cited by the city applies under Minnesota law.
"This case presents an important matter for the Supreme Court to decide and a case which will help clarify, harmonize and impart certainty to the law," Susan Hansen, an attorney representing Duluth, wrote in the city's petition for further review. "The legal issue before this court is likely to recur and has possible statewide impact."
Union officials acknowledged Huot's actions were "inappropriate and reflected poorly on all police officers." However, they have called on the city to accept the findings, drop the litigation and return Huot to work.
"No matter what you think of the actual Adam Huot incident, I think it has kind of morphed now into a decision that affirms what we've collectively bargained for and what our agreement with the city has been all along," Sgt. Ryan Morris, president of the union, said last month. "What it really comes down to is the due process of an officer. And these decisions have affirmed the role of the arbitrator in our system."
Review by the Supreme Court is not automatic. The union has 20 days to file a response to the petition and the court has 60 days to decide whether to accept the case.
The high court accepts review in approximately 10-12% of the roughly 700 petitions it receives from Court of Appeals cases each year, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch.