A former Fort Pierce police officer involved in the 2016 shooting death of an unarmed man won his appeal to get his job back.
Sgt. Brian MacNaught was terminated almost a year after the shooting death of 21-year- old Demarcus Semer, following an internal investigation.
On Tuesday, city leaders received word of the decision, finding, according to documents, that MacNaught violated policies but not to an extent to call for termination.
An arbitrator ordered MacNaught be reinstated no later than June 1, 2018. He will also receive back pay and benefits and keep his seniority and rank.
In April 2016, Sgt. MacNaught and Officer Keith Holmes responded to a traffic stop with Semer.
During the traffic stop, a complex situation developed and as a result, MacNaught fired his weapon and killed Semer, according to the arbitration documents.
Investigators said when MacNaught approached the vehicle, he proceeded to lean into Semer’s car to check for drugs or weapons.
Semer would not leave the vehicle and drove forward. MacNaught positioned himself between the car and passenger door, trapping himself and risking serious injury.
The city argued MacNaught did not ask Semer to turn off the engine, which allowed Semer to drive away, “creating the chaos which led to the confusion and the shots fired by both officers."
However, an arbitrator found MacNaught's actions in that situation were not a policy violation, but perhaps a poor use of common sense for an officer with more than a decade of experience.
During the course of the investigation, detectives also found MacNaught’s body camera inside the trunk of his vehicle. This was found to be in violation of policy, according to the arbitrator.
MacNaught was ordered to lock the body camera in a secure place at the department until proper procedures were put in place for how the cameras should be used.
He told investigators he had the body camera in the car because he had used it for a demonstration for a citizen outreach effort.
The arbitrator said the use of the body camera despite orders to lock it away was “much ado over a very minor incident and provides no basis for termination.”
The arbitrator also brought into question City Manager Nick Mimm’s involvement in the decision to terminate the two officers. His son was friends with Semer. The arbitrator said this could appear to be an emotional conflict of interest.
Semer’s grandfather, Elijah Smith, found out about the decision Tuesday. “I got a little angry,” Smith said.
He raised Semer, and was disappointed to hear MacNaught can return to work.
“We’re right back where we started from. Like nothing happened. He murdered my grandson and yet he’s back on payroll. He got a badge and a gun,” Smith said.
How Smith moves forward from here is yet to be known.
“It is what it is. We just have to live with it,” Smith said.
Holmes’ appeal is still pending.