School board justified in firing custodian who turned bank robber on lunch break

Arbitration board saw holes in his story about stress being the cause and worried for the safety of the school

An Ontario school board had just cause to fire a school custodian who was arrested and convicted of robbing a bank, the Ontario Arbitration Board has ruled.

Michael Cobb, 40, served as head custodian at a small elementary school in the Ottawa area. He had been employed with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board for 18 years with no disciplinary problems or legal trouble and was viewed as a good worker.

However, on Nov. 14, 2003, Cobb robbed a bank while on his lunch break. When police arrested him, he had a starter’s pistol full of blanks and a .22-caliber bullet in his possession. The police report indicated he confessed to the crime immediately. Cobb said that during the robbery he was in a “kind of trance” and he had been experiencing stress from health and marriage problems.

Since the incident, he said he’d been managing his stress better and was on medication which was helping with his health issues. He stated he was “more capable to deal with day to day stresses” and expressed remorse and acknowledgment of his actions.

The arbitration board expressed sympathy for Cobb’s situation but pointed out there was no medical evidence to support his claim of mental health issues which would cause the kind of dissociative state he said he was in during the robbery.

“We are left with serious questions as to Mr. Cobb’s account of the events and the automatic way in which he describes his actions…and we are given no comfort for the future,” the arbitration board said.

The arbitration board pointed out Cobb’s hold-up note was on a slip from a different bank and he was found with a list of names and locations of several banks on it. It felt this pointed to at least some amount of pre-meditation, which was at odds with Cobb’s explanation that it was the result of a last-minute decision brought on by stress. The arbitration board also noted his explanation for the starter’s pistol — he kept it in his trunk for hunting and fishing trips — was suspect, since no other hunting or fishing gear was found in his car. The fact the gun had been brought onto school property in his car was also cause for concern.

The arbitration board noted Cobb’s years of service and his unfortunate personal situation would be worth consideration, but the discrepancies in his version of events and the safety concerns his crime and the pistol in his car raised were enough for the school board to have just cause for termination rather than lesser discipline such as suspension.

“A school board has and must have a reputation for employing persons of good character,” the arbitration board concluded. “As a chief custodian at an elementary school Mr. Cobb was in a position of trust both with respect to school property and people. (Cobb’s actions) have serious and obvious implications for the safety and security of members of the school community.” See Ottawa-Carleton District School Board v. O.S.S.T.F., District 25, 2006 CarswellOnt 387 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

Latest stories