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Arbitrator finds Manchester had 'just cause' to fire Coco

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 16. 2013 11:52PM

MANCHESTER — An arbitrator has upheld the firing of Stephen Coco, the former city police officer accused of striking two Bedford teens walking down a residential street and then driving away.

The Manchester Police Department fired Coco, a sergeant, days after the March 22 incident. Coco appealed the termination and an arbitration hearing was held in October.

A prosecutor, meanwhile, is weighing new criminal charges against Coco after a judge rejected a plea deal last month.

The arbitrator upheld Coco's firing in a ruling earlier this month.

"Suffice to say, under the contract, there has to be just cause for termination," Deputy City Solicitor Tom Arnold said. "The arbitrator found the police department and city had just cause to terminate Coco."

Arnold declined to release the arbitrators's report because he said it deals with "internal personnel matters."

Police Chief David Mara said firing Coco, a 17-year veteran of the force, was "the right thing" for the department to do. "We followed the procedures and the process, and the arbitrator ruled that his termination was justified," he said.

The arbitrator's ruling cannot be appealed.

Last month, a Superior Court judge rejected the plea-bargain for Coco as inappropriate. The deal would've reduced initial charges of felony conduct after an accident, the legal term for hit-and-run, to misdemeanor charges of vehicular assault. A felony hit and run charge carries a sentence of 3 to seven years in state prison.

Under the proposed deal, Coco would have served six months to a year in a local jail. The prosecutor in the case is still weighing what charges to pursue against Coco after the judge's ruling.

The accident occurred after Coco left a gathering at a fellow officer's home. Representatives for Coco's have said he had drank a glass of wine about three hours before the accident, and he was reaching for his cell phone when he ran up on a snowbank and did not realize he hit anyone.

The accident sent the two teens to the hospital, one with head injuries. The families of the boys criticized the earlier plea bargain, as well as Coco's union for taking his termination to arbitration.

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