BELDING, Mich. — A police union in West Michigan is speaking out, throwing out more accusations after an officer was fired following an off-duty fight.
The union says it’s going to fight to overturn the city manager’s decision and return Cooper to the Belding Police Department.
“There was clearly a mutual fray that took place outside the bar,” said Will Keizer, Labor Representative with The Police Officer’s Labor Council.
Cooper was involved in a fight outside of the Grattan Irish Pub on October, 11.
During that fight, Ashley Geldersma, who was nine months pregnant at the time, was hit in the stomach while trying to break it up.
Police reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show what Cooper told a deputy that night after they came to his house to interview him about the altercation.
The investigator said, “he told me that he did not remember much of what happened…said that while he was fighting…another unknown white male grabbed him from behind and began fighting with him.”
Also, the deputy stated that while interviewing Cooper, “he did not have a shirt on and had multiple scrapes and lacerations on his face, elbows and back.”
“We`re not saying that Jason`s completely without fault. What we are saying is a termination from employment is far too severe a punishment,” said Keizer.
In fighting for Cooper’s job, Keizer is also casting doubt on the city manager’s decision, saying she may have been upset with someone who was with Cooper the night of the fight.
That man is a Belding business owner who is in a dispute with the city over an expensive sidewalk project.
Keizer claims that may have played a role in the decision to fire Cooper.
“I think that some of this may have been personally motivated as a result of Mr. Dan Blunt being there,” said Keizer. “Dan is a friend of Jason`s and has had some business and personal relationships that have fallen apart with Mrs. Mullendore.”
FOX 17 reached out to City Manager Meg Mullendore, she would not go on camera, but instead sent this response.
“I can assure you that my review of and concurrence in the Chiefs recommendation to discharge Mr. Cooper Was based solely on the facts as presented,” said Mullendore. “I do not have any personal bias, either in favor of or against Mr. Cooper. As the City Manager I make my decisions based on the evidence I am presented and what I believe to be in the best interest of the City of Belding.”
“I can assure you that the fact that Mr. Blunt was involved had no bearing on my assessment of Mr. Cooper’s behavior during the altercation. Any dispute that Mr. Blunt might have had with the City regarding a sidewalk was before my time as City Manager. I find it very troubling that a union representative would attempt to publicly impugn my character and integrity rather than use the process, which he has negotiated, to resolve this dispute. The issue here is whether a trained Belding Police Officer who, based on the reported evidence, physically attacked an individual who posed no immediate threat to him, should continue in the police service of the City. That issue will be resolved through arbitration if requested by the union,” said Mullendore.
Mullendore goes on to sat that the best forum to discuss that issue is in arbitration in which an independent mediator is chosen to settle a dispute.
Keizer said arbitration is being scheduled with the state of Michigan.He said if an arbitrator says that Cooper should get his job back, he will return to the force.
Also, he said Cooper wanted to return to work with the department.
“Absolutely, this has been absolutely heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking it has, it`s hurt this community,” said Keizer.
A picket is planned in front of Belding City Hall at 2:00 pm Tuesday in support of Officer Cooper.
More Statements from Meg Mullendore, Belding City Manager:
November 14, 2013
“I have received your request for an on-air interview regarding aliegations, purportedly from
Jason Cooper’s friends, that my “dealings” with some of them may have affected my judgment in
the matter of Mr. Cooper‘s termination. I can assure you that my review of and concurrence in
the Chiefs recommendation to discharge Mr. Cooper Was based solely on the facts as presented.
I do not have any personal bias, either in favor of or against Mr. Cooper. As the City Manager I
make my decisions based on the evidence I am presented and what I believe to be in the best
interest ofthe City of Belding. ”
“I must decline your invitation, as an on-air interview about any dealings I may have had at Some
time in the past with currently anonymous friends of Mr. Cooper is not the proper forum to
resolve the issue of Whether his termination was justified. Mr. Cooper has filed a grievance
under the collective bargaining agreement. The process provides for binding arbitration. To the
extent Mr. Cooper believes he Was not treated fairly in the discharge decision that is the forum in
which to address such issues.”