PLEASANTON, Calif. – A police officer won binding arbitration against the City of Pleasanton in Northern California and was reinstated to his position after the Pleasanton Police Department terminated him in 2022. The officer not only won reinstatement, but the city was ordered to reimburse him with full backpay, benefits and 10% interest, per annum.
Officer Peter McNeff was targeted by a disgruntled peer after attending a Jan. 6, 2021 rally in Sacramento. The fellow officer “papered” McNeff with several hateful allegations pulled from three social media posts prior to McNeff’s employment as a police officer and one after attending the completely peaceful Sacramento rally, which was mistaken by the complaining party for the civil unrest in Washington D.C. on the same day.
Sadly, city administrators were sympathetic to the disgruntled peer and then proceeded down an unconscionable path to target McNeff without merit.
After approximately one year of turmoil, McNeff was terminated in early 2022. He subsequently appealed his case to binding arbitration — which means neither side can further appeal the decision — and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit earlier this year.
McNeff told Law Officer on Monday that he prevailed in his case before the arbitrator, who wrote in his conclusion that the complaining officer went out of his way to “discover dirt” on McNeff “so that he could get him fired because he disagreed with his political views.”
However, the arbitrator ruled that McNeff’s free speech rights are protected and there was no evidence present that would suggest his ability to perform his law enforcement duties were compromised.
This judgment came despite a lengthy investigation by two contract “hired-gun” attorneys. The Oakland based lawyers took over the investigation on behalf of the city who went after McNeff with every ounce of political bias they could muster.
Regardless of the city’s aggressive efforts to professionally destroy McNeff, the arbitrator determined that all sustained allegations by the city were inappropriate and there was no basis for termination.
It’s noteworthy that the arbitrator emphasized the social media accounts of McNeff were reviewed and approved by a background investigator and the department signed off on them prior to his employment. Yet the city subsequently tried to make an issue of certain “protected speech” posts after the grieving officer (who originally filed his complaint anonymously) had a beef with content that he was not even privy to view as a result of privacy settings.
Indeed, the city along with several high ranking police employees participated in a manufactured witch-hunt, which was Law Officer’s perspective when reading the opinion rendered by the arbitrator.
In the “Award,” the arbitrator wrote, “The Grievant, Peter McNeff was improperly terminated from his position as a Police Officer with the Pleasanton Police Department. The remedy is that he must be immediately reinstated to his position as a Police Officer with the Pleasanton Police Department with full back pay and benefits including interest at 10% annum. All files related to this termination must be removed from his personnel file.”
McNeff was represented by Justin E. Buffington, Attorney at Law with Rains Lucia Stern.
Buffington told Law Officer, “I am incredibly disappointed that the management at Officer McNeff‘s department so unnecessarily upended his life by attempting to curtail his most fundamental constitutional right, that of freedom of speech, in an unsuccessful effort to ‘cancel’ Officer McNeff and further their woke political agenda.”
“The arbitrator in this case scrupulously honored Officer McNeff’s rights under the first amendment, paving the way for justice to prevail in a manner that would undoubtedly make the Founding Fathers proud,” Buffington concluded.
Since his termination in 2022, McNeff has worked in general construction and recently earned his contractor’s license in order to make a living.
Meanwhile, the federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Pleasanton is taking shape. McNeff is represented in the suit by Scott Street with JW Howard Attorneys.
Law Officer article, Feb. 10, 2023
PLEASANTON, Calif. – A former Northern California police officer is fighting back after he says his agency terminated his services due a clash of political wills and nothing to do with job performance or adherence to department policy.
The Pleasanton Police Department fired Officer Peter McNeff early last year. They claimed he was let go due to violations of department policy. However, the claims of misconduct seemed to surface with malice after McNeff attended a conservative and entirely peaceful rally in Sacramento on Jan. 6, 2021.
Multiple sources told Law Officer that both the city and police department leaders in Pleasanton tried to make a case against McNeff as if he were one of the rioters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on the same day. But he was not. He peacefully attended a rally 3,000 miles away in Sacramento. He was not involved in anything other than exercising his right to be present with like-minded people. And for that the city launched a full scale attack on McNeff’s character and his career based upon information from a fellow officer with a checkered past who apparently had an axe to grind due to their political differences.
“Sadly, the city initiated the investigation to smear McNeff and remove him from their ranks,” according to a law enforcement source with inside information into the case. “The aggrieved person was granted complete credibility while McNeff reportedly had none in the eyes of his accusers and the hand-selected outside investigators.”
McNeff, a five-year police veteran at the time of his termination in 2022, filed the lawsuit in federal court last month. Defendants include the City of Pleasanton, Chief David Swing and other officials. In the civil action he alleges retaliation for expressing his “political views.”
Part of the misconduct investigation included McNeff’s social media. However, nothing in the record connects his online presence to the Pleasanton Police Department. Moreover, he used a pseudonym to protect his true identity from the police haters that troll social media and restricted content to his friends.
Law Officer’s source was privy to McNeff’s “Skelly Package,” which includes the entire investigative file. He said it was a “witch hunt from the outset.” Even staff members who initially told McNeff there was nothing to fear, soon turned on him as pressure was applied.
The investigative file includes hundreds of pages in which the contracted investigators (hired guns who practice law in the City of Oakland, California) filled the pages with feelings and perceptions, but otherwise grasped at straws trying to make a case that could be manipulated into policy violations.
“They did everything they could to characterize McNeff as a radical right-wing extremist, but that is simply not true,” he said. “The investigative attack is similar to the ‘Patriot Purge’ that we see going on around the country. If you love God and are devoted to the U.S. Constitution, the progressive elites need to eliminate your services in order to further expand their corrupt power base.”
Another source said, “I’ve personally known Pete his entire adult life, and I did not recognize the person described by the investigators in the heavily biased report.”
Shortly after McNeff attended the Jan. 6 rally in Sacramento, he was relieved of duty, yet it still took the city more than a year to complete the investigation.
“That is what happens when your outcome is pre-determined, yet there is an absence of facts that will justify your actions,” the law enforcement source said.
Orange County-based attorney Karren Kenney is representing McNeff in the lawsuit. She wrote an email to The Mercury News as the outlet prepared to report the story.
“My client lawfully attended a protected political rally and was retaliated against as a result,” Kenney noted. “The lawsuit explains that any reason the department/city had for terminating his employment was pretext since all of their actions stem from their displeasure with my client’s attendance at a lawful, protected political rally.”
The City of Pleasanton denied The Mercury News’ request for records, which supported the termination. They also declined to comment due to pending litigation.
According to the lawsuit, McNeff was fired following an investigation of his Facebook account, which allegedly concerned posts regarding, Muslim extremism, the state of Israel, and California’s rigorous COVID-19 guidelines.
The Jan. 6 rally in Sacramento followed weeks of dissatisfaction involving hundreds of reports of voting irregularities from the November 2020 presidential election, prompting many on the political right to demand answers, which were never fully addressed in their entirety by a competent legal authority.
“If asked, Mr. McNeff would and could explain his protected political views that he believed there were errors in the 2020 election that needed a thorough investigation,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. McNeff never indicated and never would indicate he had any support for or association with any radical or extremist group.”
McNeff said he has “suffered numerous adverse employment actions, including, but not limited to, administrative leave and revocation of police officer status, public shaming, disgrace and humiliation, being subjected to investigation, termination of employment, and ineligibility for rehire.”
He is demanding a jury trial and wants to be compensated for economic and non-economic damages.
Meanwhile, McNeff filed an appeal to challenge his termination. The case went to binding arbitration last month. After a two-day hearing, the outcome remains under review.
McNeff is married and has two small children. He graduated from California State University East Bay with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but since his termination he has worked in construction. He said the transition has been both personally and professionally taxing.
Read the lawsuit below:
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Peter McNeff is the nephew of Law Officer’s managing editor, Jim McNeff.