BELDING — Belding police officer Jason Cooper, who was fired from his job last October, will be reinstated to his position effective next week after an arbitrator ruled in Cooper’s favor.
According to Will Keizer, a labor representative for the Police Officers Labor Council, the arbitrator who mediated Cooper’s arbitration hearing against the city of Belding in May officially ruled Monday in Cooper’s favor, effectively returning him to the department.
“Jason has been returned to duty with full back pay and benefits,” Keizer said. “We expect him to be back in uniform shortly.”
Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore confirmed with The Daily News that Cooper will be integrated back into the department next week. She said Cooper will receive all of his back pay from the past eight months, with the exception of an eight-day suspension.
Keizer said Jason and his wife, Marci Cooper, who is also a Belding police officer, have been very grateful for the community support they have received over the past few months and are “thrilled” to see Jason returning to the department.
“It’s been a trying time for his family, but the community support has been wonderful, and quite frankly, the citizens of Belding deserve to have an officer of Jason Cooper’s caliber,” Keizer said. “He’s a wonderful man, a good family man, and they deserve to have him there defending their honor.”
According to a police report from the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, Cooper was off-duty when he was leaving the Grattan Irish Pub in Grattan Township on Oct. 11, 2013, and entered into an altercation with a man from Clarksville who admitted to using a racial slur toward Cooper.
It was alleged that during the altercation Cooper inadvertently hit a pregnant woman, Ashley Geldersma of Clarksville, who was apparently attempting to break up the fight. No charges were filed against anyone in the incident.
Mullendore declined to comment on Cooper’s reinstatement, but in October 2013 she said he was terminated from his position as a police officer for issues that “revolved around policy and procedural violations.”
“The police chief (Dale Nelson) makes the preliminary decision and then we make a final determination together,” she previously said. “In this instance, I supported the chief’s decision (to fire Cooper).”
Keizer admitted that Cooper’s actions were a mistake, but said the punishment was too severe.
“What we argued was that the punishment did not fit the crime,” he said. “Part of the arbitrator’s decision was that Jason was given an eight-day suspension, which is a correct and just decision.”
Cooper is a 17-year veteran of the department who was originally hired in 1998.
Cooper was previously fired in 2000 for an “unjustified police pursuit.” According to his personnel file, he allegedly provided false statements during an investigation into the transport of a suspect.
He also returned to the job after that termination through arbitration.