By Dave Altimari, Hartford Courant
Windsor Locks has been ordered by a state labor board to rehire former Sgt. Robert Koistinen and pay him what could be more than $100,000 in back pay.
In a 15-page decision released Thursday, the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration ruled that even though some of Koistinen’s actions were “inappropriate” on the night he responded to a fatal accident in which his son, off-duty Windsor Locks Officer Michael Koistinen, hit a 15-year-old bicyclist, the town was wrong in firing him because he did not violate any town policies.
Town officials have scheduled a meeting next week to discuss how to proceed.
“The arbitration award speaks for itself,” Windsor Locks Police Commission Chairman Kevin Brace said. “We will have a special police commission meeting on Monday night to discuss this decision and the possibility of pending litigation with our labor attorney.”
Robert Koistinen was fired by the commission in January 2012 for his role in the department’s investigation into the death of Henry Dang, who was struck by a vehicle driven by Michael Koistinen in October 2010.
Robert Koistinen was one of the first officers at the accident and drove his son away before any police officers could talk to him. He placed his son in the back of his police department SUV and twice drove him to the police station.
The three-member arbitration panel acknowledged that Koistinen’s removal of his son from the scene was not proper but ruled there was no police policy in place at the time spelling that out.
“Placing his son in his vehicle and leaving the scene on two occasions was inappropriate,” the ruling stated. “While his actions require discipline, the termination of a 34-year employee with absolutely no prior discipline is without just cause and unduly severe.”
The panel unanimously agreed that Robert Koistinen should not have been fired but should have been suspended for one year without pay. Because he was fired in January 2012 that would mean a suspension through January 2013, meaning the town will not only have to reinstatement him but pay his salary for the past 13 months.
Robert Koistinen’s salary was $75,000 when he was fired, not including overtime.
The panel relied heavily on an independent investigation done by Marcum LLP, which was hired by the town to review the department’s handling of the Dang case.
That report concluded that Robert Koistinen’s actions on the night of Deng’s death did not violate any police policies and that “there was no overall conspiracy” to protect Michael Koistinen.
The panel dismissed another major criticism of Robert Koistinen’s actions that night – his handling of a witness at the scene.
When he arrived at the accident Robert Koistinen was approached by a witness who said the driver who hit Dang threw something from his car into her yard. Robert Koistinen searched the yard and later told the police chief what the witness had said.
It wasn’t until several hours later, well after Michael Koistinen had been removed from the scene, that investigators found a broken beer bottle in the witness’ yard.
The panel agreed with the conclusions of the Marcum report that “the accident scene had been adequately preserved and protected for the investigation.”
Michael Koistinen refused to have his blood alcohol level tested at the scene and when officers arrived at the hospital a few hours later Robert Koistinen told them his son would not give a blood sample.
State police later determined that Michael Koistinen had been drinking all day before the accident, first at a tailgate party before a University of Connecticut football game and then at a bar in Suffield just minutes from where the accident occurred.
But because Michael Koistinen had not been administered a breath test at the scene or agreed to a blood test police were never able to determine if he was legally intoxicated when he hit Dang.
Both Koistinens were arrested after state police took over the accident investigation. Michael Koistinen was sentenced to 64 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter and tampering with evidence.
Robert Koistinen was acquitted in October 2012 of charges of hindering prosecution. Dang’s family sued the police department and later settled with the town for $420,000.
Following his acquittal, Robert Koistinen filed a grievance with the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration, which held three hearings in spring 2013, as well as three executive sessions, the last in December.