In March of 2012, Buffalo Police Officer Jorge L. Melendez was caught growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants in a warehouse he owns on South Park Avenue. He was fired in May of 2012, pleaded guilty in August of 2014 and was sentenced to five years in federal prison in January of 2015 by US District Judge, William M. Skretny. He is now serving at McKean Federal Correctional Institution. He was also ordered to pay a monetary judgement totaling $300,000, and forfeit a Chevy Suburban, a Harley Davidson, a 36-foot speed boat and seven firearms. His release date is June 22nd, 2018.
Since he was denied a disciplinary hearing, he was recently awarded $195,507.24 in back pay for the 26 months during which his case was in a ‘pending’ state (from May, 2012 to July, 2014).
In his ruling, arbitrator Jeffrey M. Selchick said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who immediately fired Melendez upon his arrest, violated the contractual obligations. “While the commissioner’s perception of the grievant’s wrongdoing was reasonable and well founded, the procedures which the parties agreed they would follow did not permit the commissioner, as he did, to summarily discharge the grievant,” said Selchick.
The city, which argued that Melendez was, “the epitome of a faithless servant,” and not, “entitled to recover compensation,” plans to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling.
But who is actually guilty?
The manufacturing or distributing of 100-999 marijuana plants carries a penalty of 5-40 years in prison and a fine of $2-$5 Million. Sometimes individuals are sentenced to life in prison for selling a tiny fraction of what Melendez was accused of cultivating. Still, Melendez’s sentence was less than the federal minimum and far more lenient. Why?
“We don’t want this kind of person on the job; neither does the mayor nor the commissioner. Criminals and drug dealers cast a stain upon all the good police officers,” Police Benevolent Association President, Kevin Kennedy, said while acknowledging Melendez’s crime. Still, the union went ahead to defend him to ‘protect his contract.’ Why was ‘avoiding a costly lawsuit later’ more important than upholding the law and keeping officers accountable?
Is it because the US has two sets of rules – one for the public and the other for the cops?
Interestingly, Melendez was a serial offender and the Buffalo Police Department did not know this. He was caught by the FBI for selling drugs, was let off for lack of evidence and thereafter was allowed to be a drug informant for the agency. He later joined the Buffalo Police Department, which did not bother to check his credentials or past history before hiring him.
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