The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

March 26, 2014

Ex-Athens police officer says he was wrongly fired after reporting alleged corruption


D. Plaintiff Is Retaliated Against for His Protected Activity

44. Immediately after Plaintiff’s interrogation by Defendant Harper, Plaintiff was removed from his supervisory position over the Department’s Honor Guard.

45. Plaintiff asked Defendant Chief Harper about his removal, and whether Plaintiff had performed unsatisfactorily.

46. Harper responded that Plaintiff had not performed unsatisfactorily.

47. Plaintiff personally took great pride in his position as Supervisor of the Department’s Honor Guard. Plaintiff had originally formed the Honor Guard in 2004, and having the supervisor position was a positive reflection on his overall work performance prior to Plaintiff’s unexplained removal, and his commitment to maintaining the integrity of the Department.

48. Thereafter, in January of 2011, Plaintiff was transferred from the Investigations division and was assigned as a Patrol Sergeant on the day shift.

49. The transfer out of the Department’s Investigations division was against Plaintiff’s interests in his continued career path to an investigator position.

50. Plaintiff was dissatisfied with his transfer, and asked Chief Harper again whether he had been performing unsatisfactorily.

51. Harper again responded that Plaintiff had not performed unsatisfactorily.

52. In April of 2011, Plaintiff’s ex-wife, angry from divorce proceedings and a custody dispute with Plaintiff, made an accusation that Plaintiff used his status as a police officer against her during court proceedings.

53. Plaintiff has never used any information he obtained due to his employment as a police officer for purposes of any divorce or custody proceeding, nor has any Court or governing body found otherwise.

54. When Plaintiff’s ex-wife entered the Athens Police Department to make a complaint against Plaintiff, she was not initially asked questions about the merit of her complaint against Plaintiff, but was instead asked a serious of questions about Plaintiff’s knowledge of the Harrison corruption scandal and Plaintiff’s relationship with the media.

55. In the room during the meeting with Plaintiff’s ex-wife were Defendant Lt. Trevor Harris, Defendant Chief Harper, and Defendant Captain Harrison.

56. During that meeting, Plaintiff’s ex-wife was asked a series of questions about whether Plaintiff was involved in the reporting of the Harrison corruption scandal.

57. Plaintiff’s ex-wife was also asked a series of questions about the nature of Plaintiff’s involvement with a news reporter who had reported corruption in the police department.

58. The series of questions asked of Plaintiff’s ex-wife were similar in nature and scope to the questions asked of Plaintiff by Chief Harper in 2010 regarding Plaintiff’s involvement in reporting the Harrison scandal.

59. After Plaintiff’s ex-wife came in to file a complaint against Plaintiff,

Defendants Harper, Harrison, and Harris together devised a method of retaliation against Plaintiff for his protected activity.

60. As a result of the meeting with Plaintiff’s ex-wife, Defendants created a plan to retaliate against Plaintiff under the guise of a supposed “routine” discipline.

61. In June of 2011, Plaintiff and his legal counsel learned, during a custody proceeding, that there was a pending investigation of Plaintiff at the Department.

62. Plaintiff had no prior knowledge or notice of any impending disciplinary action or investigation of him, or of any complaint filed against him.

63. Plaintiff, while accompanied by his legal counsel, approached Defendant Harper and confronted Harper about the pending investigation referenced during the prior custody proceeding.

64. Defendant Harper then, for the first time, informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff’s ex-wife had come into the office and filed a complaint.

65. Defendant Harper informed Plaintiff that the office thought little of the potential offense, and that Plaintiff had not been made aware of the allegations before because the allegations had little merit.

66. Defendant Harper informed Plaintiff’s attorney that it was quite common for spouses who are involved in divorce/custody disputes with officers to make complaints such as the kind of behavior Plaintiff had been accused of – that of running a license plate of an unknown vehicle for non law-enforcement purposes.

67. On July 28, 2011, Plaintiff was informed by an agent of the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center that he, Plaintiff, was under investigation.

68. On July 29, 2011, Plaintiff contacted District Attorney Brian Jones and asked if he had broken the law.

69. Jones replied that it did not sound like Plaintiff had broken the law, and that the investigation was obviously a “witch hunt” based on Plaintiff’s knowledge of the Harrison corruption scandal.

70. In the summer of 2011, Plaintiff approached Defendant Lt. Trevor Harris in Harris’ office at the Athens Police Department and inquired about the status of a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) investigation into Plaintiff’s alleged offense.

71. Lt. Harris responded that he wanted to get Plaintiff’s side of the story, but that he, Harris, was instructed that only Defendant Harper and Defendant Marks were allowed to speak to Plaintiff regarding those matters.

72. Defendant Marks had, by that time, been elected Mayor of the City of Athens.

73. Plaintiff informed Defendant Harris that no one at the Athens Police Department had asked Plaintiff for any information at all.

74. Defendant Harris expressed surprise after Plaintiff relayed to him, Harris, that Defendant Harper earlier told Plaintiff that he thought little of the allegations against Plaintiff.

75. Plaintiff told Harris, “You know exactly what this is about,” implying that the actions being taken against him were in retaliation for Plaintiff’s involvement in the Captain Harris corruption scandal.

76. Defendant Harris understood Plaintiff’s implication, and Defendant Harris responded sharply: “What happened with [Defendant] Tracy [Harrison] two years ago should have been kept confidential. It was an internal matter. We will make sure that your matter will be kept confidential.”

77. In early 2012, Plaintiff spoke with Defendant Chief Johnson about the NCIC complaint against Plaintiff.

78. At the time, Defendant Johnson was the Interim Chief of the Department.

79. During that conversation, Plaintiff told Defendant Johnson, “I think I know who started this whole thing,” and Plaintiff pointed to Captain Harrison’s office.

80. Interim Chief Johnson nodded his head yes, intending to confirm Plaintiff’s suspicion that Defendant and former Police Captain Harrison had been a part of initiating the complaint against, and investigation of, Plaintiff.

81. On April 11, 2012, almost a year after any investigation of Plaintiff was originally opened, ACJIC agent Lynn Shobe interviewed Plaintiff.

82. During that conversation, Lynn Shobe commented that Plaintiff’s case had “just fallen out of the sky onto his desk,” implying that he did not know the reasons for the resurrection of the investigation of Plaintiff.

83. Agent Shobe predicted that Plaintiff would probably receive only sanctions and some re-training, as Shobe explained was typical in similar situations.

84. Defendant Chief Johnson chose to ratify the ACJIC recommendation to suspend Plaintiff’s privilege from the NCIC system while planning to recommend Plaintiff’s termination for temporarily not having access to the NCIC system.

85. Plaintiff’s employment was terminated effective May 1, 2012.

86. Plaintiff’s notice of termination, as delivered, was signed and approved by Defendant Marks.

87. Plaintiff’s termination was in retaliation for his protected activity.

88. The reason given for Plaintiff’s investigation and eventual termination was that he did not have access to the NCIC system and therefore could not perform the duties of a police officer.

89. While Plaintiff was investigated internally for running a tag for non-law enforcement purposes, other officers, including Defendant Harper and the Department’s employee Lt. Pressnell, were never investigated or terminated despite widespread knowledge that other officers have engaged in actions identical to Plaintiff’s alleged actions without any adverse employment action.

90. Lt. Pressnell and Defendant Harper did not engage in the same protected activity as Plaintiff, who by contrast, was investigated, disciplined, and terminated for the same alleged offense.

91. While Plaintiff was terminated, Defendant City of Athens Police issued disciplines short of termination for far more egregious offenses than the behavior of which Plaintiff was accused.

92. Defendant City did not terminate officers who were found to have had sex with prostitutes being held in custody.

93. Defendant City did not terminate Defendant Harris and Defendant Harrison when they were found to have illegally entered into an agreement with an arrestee and, as part of that agreement, they released the arrestee without contacting appropriate prosecutors.

94. Defendant City did not terminate Lt. Pressnell, instead suspending him, after Pressnell was found to have had sexual relations with a prostitute while he was on duty.

95. Defendant City did not terminate Sgt. Greg Lott after Lott was found to have been doubling hours worked on his time sheet.

96. Defendant City did not take any corrective action against Lt. Pressnell when Pressnell “ran” a tag as a favor for his wife that was not for law enforcement purposes – the same offense for which Plaintiff was allegedly terminated.

97. Furthermore, Defendant City did not take any corrective action against Defendant Harper after Harper repeatedly “ran” car tags at the behest of a friend in town.

98. Defendant Harris, Defendant Harrison, Defendant Johnson, Defendant Harper, and Defendant Marks all had knowledge that both Pressnell and Harper had run car tags for non law-enforcement purposes, but only Plaintiff was investigated, disciplined, and terminated for allegedly doing the same.

99. Defendant City’s pattern and practice of selectively enforcing its own rules and regulations systematically allows for the Athens Police Department to terminate employees based on improper considerations, such as whether that employee has engaged in protected activity that is critical of the Department or its supervisors.

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