How One Attorney Forces Police Chiefs to Rehire The Officers They Fire

In 2013, homicide detectives in Miami were finally closing in on suspects in the robbery and killing of a manager at a cellphone store six years earlier. A break in the case had led them to a colleague: police officer Adrian Rodriguez.

Rodriguez had been employed at the cellphone store before joining the Miami Police Department and was working there the night the manager was ambushed and shot to death. Investigators had come to suspect that the crime was an inside job, possibly involving Rodriguez, his brother and his father.

When Rodriguez refused to cooperate with detectives, the police chief fired him. Rodriguez then did what many other South Florida police officers have done to get their jobs back — he turned to Fort Lauderdale labor attorney Gene Gibbons.

Gibbons, who represents officers in job appeals on behalf of police unions across Florida, has over the past eight years won reinstatement for more than 22 fired officers, often returning them to work over the objections of police chiefs who say they are unfit for duty.

A former cop, Gibbons has prevailed by finding the weak point in a department’s case, no matter how severe the alleged misconduct. He frequently capitalizes on the mistakes of police officials, attacking sloppy investigations and hammering departments over missed deadlines.

“The city gives me ammunition to win,” Gibbons, 47, said of his strategy.

In May, Gibbons won again — persuading an arbitrator to order Rodriguez’s return to the Miami police force.

“He’s not fit to be a cop,” said Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes of Rodriguez. “How could we face the victim’s family if we didn’t fire him?”

Llanes claims Gibbons’s success is undermining his effort to hold his officers accountable. Gibbons’s efforts have forced Miami to reinstate six of the 12 officers the chief has fired since 2014.

The work of labor lawyers like Gibbons helps explain why hundreds of officers nationwide have won back jobs through a quasi-judicial process known as arbitration. In August, The Post reported that since 2006 police chiefs at 37 of the nation’s largest police departments have been forced to rehire more than 450 officers, or nearly a quarter of the officers they have fired for misconduct. Often the officers conceded some aspect of the underlying misconduct, but arbitrators, swayed by union attorneys, overruled the firings.

For Gibbons, an affable, barrel-chested man, the path to becoming an advocate for embattled police officers began when he was a teen growing up outside Philadelphia in the early 1980s.

Then 16, Gibbons was driving home in the family station wagon when a Philadelphia police officer pulled him over. Gibbons sat quietly while the officer ran his license. When he returned, the boy asked the officer why he had been stopped. Gibbons said the officer abruptly punched him in the face and told him to go home.

“I was stewing mad,” he said. “The police had tremendous power.”

Gibbons wanted to be a police officer himself. He studied criminal justice at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania and then moved to Florida to become an officer at the Coral Gables Police Department. When the city threatened to reduce pension benefits for officers, Gibbons ran for president of the Coral Gables officers’ union and won.

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