Dixon deal provides double standard for life

Former mayor's case casts shadow on firing of Inner Harbor officer

September 01, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

Here's a lingering effect of the unsatisfying outcome of L'Affaire Sheila — it provides opportunity in perpetuity to raise the disgraced former Baltimore mayor's $83,000-a-year pension whenever some other Maryland public servant, such as Officer Salvatore "I'm Not the Dude" Rivieri, gets in trouble.

Until a videotape of his bullish confrontation with a 14-year-old skateboarder at Baltimore's Inner Harbor went viral, Salvatore Rivieri was known only to family and friends, fellow police officers, the business owners and city residents on the streets he patrolled, and his dentist.

L'Affaire Skateboard happened three years ago and, let's be honest, most of us had forgotten about it. But the question of discipline for the officer had not been resolved.

Last week, we learned that the Baltimore police commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, had fired Mr. Rivieri, a punishment that went far beyond what was recommended by a police trial board that reviewed the officer's conduct.

It was the commissioner's prerogative, but the consequence for Mr. Rivieri, a 19-year veteran, goes beyond just losing his job in the midst of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Mr. Rivieri was one year short of collecting a full pension, so he won't get it.

He loses his job, loses his medical benefits and loses his retirement money — all for losing his temper with a skateboarder who called him "dude" at the Inner Harbor.

Where's Arnold Weiner?

Sheila Dixon's lawyer would have negotiated a better deal for Mr. Rivieri. It was Mr. Weiner who worked things out nicely last winter for his ethically challenged client, who had been convicted of shaking down a Baltimore contractor for gift cards for needy children, then using them herself.

By renegotiating an embezzlement conviction into probation before judgment — and getting the same resolution to pending perjury charges — Mr. Weiner was able to keep a conviction off her record and thereby preserve Sheila Dixon's pension. Mr. Weiner called it "the very substantial pension that she spent 20-plus years of her life earning and would have been lost were a judgment of conviction entered against her."

Yes, very substantial. At least $83,000 a year for life, calculated to eventually cost city taxpayers about $2.2 million.

So here's the kind of comparison I only can make because all parties involved in L'Affaire Sheila, especially her lawyers, agreed (without conducting a plebiscite to see how we all felt about it) that it was more important to get Ms. Dixon out of City Hall than to have a pension-depriving conviction on her record:

A woman elected to the highest office in city government shakes down a contractor, steals from the needy, apparently lies, and even now refuses to return city-owned security camera equipment installed in her home. On the other hand, a cop has a bad moment with a kid on a skateboard. She gets her full pension; the cop gets nothing more than what he put into it.

If you believe Fred Bealefeld to be a man of integrity, as many Baltimoreans do, then you have to trust that he made a good decision in firing Officer Rivieri, even at a time of staffing shortages. The department can't afford to lose veteran officers. Nor can it afford to lose any more of the public's respect and confidence.

I get that. But firing the guy? A 30-day suspension wouldn't do?

Officer Rivieri gets nothing for 19 years of service as a cop in one of the most violent cities in the country — and where his brethren just made an arrest of a skateboarder who allegedly pushed a college student to his drowning death in the Inner Harbor.

This is not right — not when Sheila Dixon walked away in disgrace with $83,000 a year for life.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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