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November 01. 2013 10:53PM

Manchester cop charged with running down Bedford teens fights firing


STEPHEN COCO 


CHIEF DAVID MARA .. ordered Coco fired 


DEAN DRUKKER, after Bedford accident. 

MANCHESTER — An arbitrator has been asked to decide whether Police Chief David Mara acted properly when he fired former Sgt. Stephen Coco, after Coco allegedly struck two teenagers on a residential street last March and didn't stop, a city official said.

Deputy City Solicitor Tom Arnold confirmed that a single-day arbitration hearing took place in his office on Oct. 2.

The hearing means that Coco, who has yet to stand trial on criminal charges stemming from the accident, could know his job status before his case goes to trial.

Mara referred questions to Arnold, who would not discuss details brought up during the arbitration.

An arbitration involves a neutral referee. Like a judge, the arbitrator hears boths sides of a dispute, which in this case deals with whether Mara followed the union contract correctly when he fired Coco.

An arbitrator takes sworn testimony, reads lawyers' briefs and reviews documents such as a union contract before making a decision.

Arnold said the arbitration took place in his office conference room. He said he disclosed the subject of the hearing because of widespread knowledge that Coco had been fired.

Mara fired Coco in March, a few days after he allegedly crashed into and sent two 17-year-old boys to the hospital. Their injuries turned out to be minor. Coco was driving an undercover police SUV at the time.

Earlier this year, a special prosecutor filed misdemeanor charges against Coco, faulting him for fiddling with a cell phone at the time of the accident. However, the prosecutor did not obtain an indictment on the felony charge of conduct after an accident, the legal term for a hit-and-run.

Coco has pleaded innocent to the two misdemeanor counts of vehicular assault in the case.

The arbitration hearing will have some monetary effect on Coco. If he can prove he should not have been fired, he would have particular benefits, such as a payout of accumulated sick time, available to him, Arnold said.

An early decision by the arbitrator could also influence how strong he will fight the criminal charges.

Arnold said a deadline for him to submit briefs is Nov. 19, and an arbitrator usually submits a decision within 30 days. Either side could have asked the arbitrator to delay the hearing, but neither side did so, Arnold said.

In an email, Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur wrote: "it is unconscionable that Coco would even try to get his job back under these circumstances. He is making a laughing stock out of the Manchester police department and all the good it does trying to protect and serve our citizens."

mhayward@unionleader.com


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