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OFD union pres. to be reinstated after being fired for assault

Posted at 11:12 AM, Nov 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-14 10:31:46-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Earlier this year, Omaha Firefighters Union President Steve LeClair was fired from his position as an Omaha firefighter after an investigation into his assault of a woman at an Omaha bar. On Tuesday, an arbitrator ruled he was fired unfairly and the city should reinstate him.

Omaha Firefighter Union President fired after investigation

The arbitrator argued that LeClair should have been punished but not fired for the charges which he plead no contest to. As a result, he will be reinstated and get full back pay except for five 24-hour shifts that would constitute disciplinary action for the assault.

Read more: Former OFD union president makes plea to assault charges

In security video the city released today, you can see LeClair speaking to a woman at the bar and eventually striking her in the back. The woman later said LeClair said 'white power'.

"Maybe it's because I'm a woman, but I think woman being assaulted, men have to be accountable for it,” says Stothert.

LeClair says in a statement he regrets his decision but didn't punch a woman and isn't racist, also saying, "The action taken by the city to terminate my employment was simply put, politically motivated and I'm satisfied that the arbitrator reviewed the evidence and determined I was not afforded due process."

Stothert points to the fact that after initially pleading not guilty, LeClair pleaded no contest.

"There was a statement made, he wasn't given due process, well due process changes when someone admits what they did it,” says Stothert.

LeClair’s lawyers say the city's investigation was abnormal and that he was targeted by the mayor and city.

"As bad as Steve Leclair feels about it. We were going to use it and cut him off at the knees because he was a powerful advocate for labor for 10 years,” says John Corrigan, attorney for the Omaha Fire Union.

LeClair’s attorney also say the victim's story changed as the process went on, and also contested that he said "white power,” instead saying "what white power."

"The way we interpret it is simply an un artful effort on that particular tonight to look out at a diverse group of people and say 'what white power.” "It was the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong person, but there was no ill motive, no ill intent on his behalf,” says Mike Dowd, attorney for LeClair.

The City will have the opportunity to appeal the case and is looking at their options.

In April, LeClair was sentenced to six months of probation for the assault.

The Professional Fire Fighters Association of Omaha provided the following statement regarding the decision:

The leaders and members of Local 385 are pleased with the results of the arbitration, which has reinstated Steve LeClair as a fire fighter and will allow him to resume his career on the Omaha Fire Department and his nearly 18 years of service protecting the citizens of Omaha. The arbitration process worked exactly as it should for all city employees, providing a fair and unbiased result based on the evidence that was presented. Although the process has been long, tiresome and, at times, distracting, Local 385 has remained steadfast in our advocacy for the safe working conditions of our fire fighters as they protect the citizens of Omaha. We look forward to moving on from this unfortunate incident and continuing to provide excellent emergency services to the citizens of Omaha.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert provided the following statement:

The arbitrator charged with deciding the appropriateness of Fire Chief Dan Olsen's termination of Steve LeClair should be reinstated.

Chief Olsen and I vehemently disagree with the decision. I support chief Olsen's decision not to allow this atrocious behavior from an employee sworn to protect the public.

The only true victim in this case - the African American woman who was sexually propositioned, racially insulted by LeClair stating "white power" to her, and then physically assaulted by him--has in our opinion, been victimized.

Racial and physical abuse by city employees will not be tolerated. This type of violent conduct against women will always be dealt with in the same manner, with severe consequences. As long as I am mayor, men who work for the taxpayers and conduct themselves in this offensive and unacceptable way will face consequences. Our community standard should be no less.

This case is about just one issue - should a city employee who was found guilty by a judge, who made the following admissions, continue his employment with the City:
Admitted to the assaultAdmitted to violating the union contract's prohibition against conduct "unbecoming" of a firefighterAdmitted to insubordination when disregarding the fire chief's ordersAdmitted violating the public's trustAdmitted to using the phrase "White Power" immediately before assaulting the victim
The men who came to Mr. LeClair's defense is disturbing to me and should be to all women. This case is not about Mr. LeClair's historical conduct. Physical and sexual abuse will only end when men hold each other accountable.

There is only one victim in this case, and it is not Steve LeClair.

Until this time, we have chosen not to release the video surveillance that captures Mr. LeClair's bar room behavior. The public can decide if this type of misconduct should be tolerated.

The City is now reviewing its legal options including reversal or vacation of the order.

The Omaha Professional Firefighters Local 385 provided the following document in support of the arbitrator's decision: Post Arbitration Brief from Omaha Professional Firefighters

Through the Omaha Professional Firefighters Local 385, LeClair provided the following statement:

After an extensive three-day hearing regarding the circumstances surrounding my wrongful termination from the Omaha Fire Department, I am grateful that the neutral Arbitrator has ordered my reinstatement. One mistake does not define a person's life work, and although I regret the incident that took place, I did NOT punch a lady in a bar and I am not a subscriber to racist attitudes.

The action taken by the city to terminate my employment was simply put, politically motivated and I'm satisfied that the Arbitrator reviewed the evidence and determined I was not afforded due process.

Friends across the political spectrum have stood by me during this exhaustive course. Some have paid a price for that support in the form of attacks by people who have no knowledge of the facts. That is unfortunate and demonstrative of the worst side of politics.

I am thankful that I was afforded this process by our union contract, and appreciative all of the friends, family, coworkers and fellow soldiers whom with I served, who have supported me during this. that support has been overwhelming and I will be forever grateful. I look forward to returning to my career as a firefighter, and to serving the citizens of this great city.