Choosing Social Ties Over Agency Law Enforcement Efficiency

A Homeland Security official was fired for being less than truthful over a machete attack involving his girlfriend’s son. A GPS tag sowed he had visited the house of a gang member on a number of occasions. He was fired for multiple reasons including unauthorized disclosure of government information and personal use of an immigration database. He filed an appeal of his removal that went to court.

A Homeland Security Deportation Officer, fired for being less than truthful with law enforcement authorities over a machete attack involving his girlfriend’s son in Fairfax County, Virginia, lost his court bid to overturn the firing. (Arrieta v. Department of Homeland Security, C.A.F.C. No. 2008-3290 (nonprecedential), 7/7/09)
Arrieta had 17 years with the Immigration and Naturalization Service/Homeland Security in various law enforcement positions, but it was all tossed away when he seemingly tried to protect his girlfriend’s son when the police came calling.
The Fairfax police suspected Cesar Rodriguez, a known member of one of the area’s largest gangs, of involvement in the attack in a home next door to Gloria Rodriguez, Arrieta’s girlfriend. Arrieta was at the Rodriguez home when police came looking for Cesar.
He told them that the mother and son were not at home and offered no additional information. As it turns out he later admitted that he knew more about it—he was in the Rodriguez home when the machete attack occurred, had heard a scream at the time, and saw Cesar come to his mother’s house shortly after the attack and leave with his mother, and told Gloria when she got back that the police were looking for Cesar. He volunteered none of this to the police. Nor did he call the police as requested when Cesar showed up back at the home. (Opinion pp. 2-3)
Cesar was eventually arrested, convicted and sentenced to 6 years. (p. 3)
Since Arrieta’s position gave him inside information on the gang activities, the Fairfax police were not thrilled to see Arrieta’s official vehicle parked in the Rodriguez driveway when they came to execute a search warrant, and reported this fact to the agency.
The Office of Inspector General investigated. Despite being told by Arrieta that that he only visited the Rodriguez home a few times, a GPS tag showed that he was there very frequently. Other issues were uncovered during the several month agency investigation of Arrieta—his admission that he discussed agency operations with Gloria, including upcoming raids on the son’s gang; that he had checked Gloria’s files out in the agency database; that he stayed in close touch with Cesar, among others. (pp. 4-5)
The agency threw the book at him, charging Arrieta with conduct unbecoming a law enforcement officer, inappropriate association of a suspected criminal, lack of candor, unauthorized disclosure of government information, and personal use of an immigration database. (p. 4)
Arrieta challenged his firing before an arbitrator (John Donoghue) who held a hearing and then ruled that removal was justified as to each of the charges. (p. 5)
Here is the crux of the arbitrator’s ruling: “[T]he essence of his [Arrieta’s] job is law enforcement. He is a trained officer who has worked MS-13 cases. And while doing so, Mr. Arrieta has, in his private life, socially associated with at least one MS-13 gang member. When the two aspects of his life intersected, he chose loyalty to his social ties to the detriment of the efficiency of his law enforcement service. The nexus is clear, unmistakable and obvious to any reader of the facts.” (p. 8)
Long story short, the court has now sustained the arbitrator’s decision and Arrieta remains fired.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.