All peace officers in the government of Guam are on notice: What they do in their private lives can jeopardize their work if their behavior adversely affects the code of conduct they're expected to uphold in their public role.
On Monday, the Guam Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Katherine A. Maraman and joined by Justice F. Philip Carbullido and Justice Robert J. Torres, affirmed a final judgment of the Superior Court upholding an adverse action suspending Corrections Officer Eric Santos for 20 days.
Santos used ’foul and abusive language’
Santos' case stems from an incident outside of his work, during a quarrel in which he was quoted as having used "foul and abusive language that could have led to a fight.” The second reason for his suspension was his alleged harassment of a former girlfriend as part of a custody dispute. Santos’ former girlfriend obtained an order of protection against him, according to information from the Supreme Court's opinion.
DOC’s Internal Affairs officers investigated both incidents and wrote a report that formed the basis of Santos’ suspension.
Santos fought his case, arguing in part that the alleged incidents occurred outside of the scope of his government job.
However, the high court stated: "Peace officers must meet high moral and ethical standards – both on and off duty."
An expectation of high moral and ethical standards
"The Supreme Court found that the Guam Legislature provided for regulating peace officer conduct both on and off duty, and corrections officers fall within the definition of 'peace officer,'" the high court stated. Further, the high court concluded that "the regulations Santos violated were sufficiently related to Santos’ employment and the high moral and ethical standards expected of him as a peace officer."
The work-related allegation stems from Santos' failure to cooperate in an Internal Affairs investigation of the incidents that led to his suspension.
This Supreme Court opinion offers the public reason to be hopeful that the system does hold those in public positions accountable.
In this case, the Civil Service Commission, too, decided Santos should be held accountable.
CSC decision is a victory for the public
This is unlike some of the other CSC decisions which look narrowly at technicalities – regardless of the merits of a GovGuam employee's case. We specifically remember the case of Kevin Susuico, who is now the mayor of Agat. The CSC granted Susuico generous back pay and reinstatement to his job, even though he was fighting to get back a Port Authority of Guam job he was never qualified to hold. He was hired as an accountant even though his two-year degree was in marketing and he lacked the basic qualifications to be an accountant.
This time, the public won. We need to see more victories in favor of the public, whom GovGuam serves.