AFSCME Council 18

Rounds of Trouble with Women for Sheriff Houston: Picks Fight with Small Handed People and Loses

Public Safety Officers P.J. Montoya and Jocelyn Hotle - Back On the Job!

AFSCME Member Back on the Job After Huge Arbitration Victory

     The American love affair with firearms isn’t something you would naturally expect to play a pivotal role in the protection of union members’ rights. Bernalillo County Court Security Officer Jocelyn Hotle has the science of firearms, the Union Contract, and some hard work by AFSCME Stewards and Staff to thank for the restoration of her job.

     “Every Officer believed in Jocelyn, we were outraged when she was fired. Everyone who walks into the Bernalillo County Court Building is safer because she is back at her post!” said Local 1661 President, and Court Security Officer Richard Sawin.

     Trained in 2008 with the Albuquerque Police Department, Hotle worked as an officer at APD before joining the Bernalillo County Court Security (CSS) in 2011. In testimony, Hotle was recognized for being a well regarded, solid CSS, who was valued in the position because of her people skills and ability to de-escalate emotional or confrontational situations.

     Trouble began when the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department denied Hotle’s request to complete firearms training with her preferred 9mm weapon. While with APD, Hotle had used and successfully qualified using a 9mm which met the standard operating specifications of an approved weapon that may be used in addition to, or in lieu of, the Department issued Glock 22.

     BCCS issued Glock 22’s, as documented, cause both males and females with smaller hands difficulty in reaching the high level of marksmanship we required for our sworn safety officers.

     Regardless of the science, the department refused to accommodate Hotle, and after failing to qualify with the larger weapon, violated her contract rights, and terminated her employment.

     Beyond the clear discrimination, another problem with the county’s actions is that, before Sheriff Houston’s arrival, at least three CSSs had been allowed to use their personally owned weapon in lieu of the Department issued weapon.

     Further, Article 27 of the union contract guaranteed Hotle the opportunity to use her preferred weapon. Bernalillo County’s own policies would allowed the Sheriff to make an exception and the union contract supersedes parts of the policy that the county used to fire Officer Hotle.

     BCSD refused to relent, even though it was clear that Hotle’s inadequate grip on the larger weapon was to blame for her inconsistent qualification shot patterns. On the Glock, Hotle’s grip does not exhibit a proper 360 degree contact between the meat of the thumb and forefinger, nor does her trigger finger rest in the ideal position. Her shot pattern was typical of someone attempting to use an over sized weapon.

     Despite having such a weak case, and at a high cost to tax payers, the County would not settle and presented their arguments before Arbitrator.

     In the award, Arbitrator Pilar Vaile invoked the union contract and reinstated Hotle to her position with back pay and credits for time lost. The award extended forty-five days for her to qualify with her own properly fitted weapon of choice.

     The arbitration decision will have broad and positive ramifications for all organized and unorganized public safety officers. Now, officers who need accommodation to better protect the public have a precedent setting decision shielding their rights from ‘Houston-style’ big gun machismo.

     AFSCME received the arbitrator’s award on a Thursday. The next Monday Hotle returned to her post. That same week, she went to the firing range and qualified with her own weapon on the first go. Congratulations to Officer Hotle, the AFSCME Local 1661 Court Security Specialists who have one of their finest back on duty.

     “With only one parent working, and two growing children, it was rough after I was fired.” Said Hotle. Beyond the lost income, Hotle also missed her work-family. Now back at her post, Hotle says, “I didn’t realize how much I would miss the job, I love being here, I am home here.”

     This was a victory for public safety and every public safety officer out there, especially all those out there who, big hearted and brave, face daily the discrimination of being small in physical stature.

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