Officer Describes Police Corruption in Alabama
ANNISTON, Ala. (CN) - A police officer was fired for talking to the media about corruption in the department, including officers pulling over a mail truck and destroying mail to cover up an arrest, the officer claims in court.
Jason White sued the City of Athens, Mayor William Marks, Police Chief Floyd Johnson, ex-Police Chief Reed Wayne Harper, and police Officers Tracy Harrison and Trevor Harris, in Federal Court.
White began working for Athens as a police officer in April 1999, and rose to the rank of sergeant and lead investigator within a few years. He supervised several officers and was lead investigator in more than 1,500 cases, according to the complaint.
White says his downfall came from talking to a newspaper reporter about "unsavory secrets" he had learned about police employees during his work as an investigator.
"It was widely reported in the summer of 2009 that defendant Tracy Harrison, who was then a Captain in the Athens Police Department, had covered up a DUI arrest made by the department," the complaint states.
"After receiving a phone call from a DUI arrestee's attorney, defendant Harrison deleted police department records, logs, and notices to the state of the DUI arrest, including what is referred to as an 'AST60 mail log.'
"In order to stop the eventual prosecution of the DUI, defendant Harrison, accompanied by then-Lt. Pressnell, used a police vehicle to pull over an on-duty postal worker driving a U.S. Mail vehicle.
"After stopping the mail truck, defendant Harrison intercepted, retrieved, and destroyed important documentation about the DUI arrest before it arrived at the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
"Defendant Harrison then requested that Officer Jason Threet not swear to the arrest.
"Thereafter, Jason Threet was the next officer promoted to sergeant."
Pressnell and Threet are not parties to the lawsuit.
An anonymous complaint about the cover-up of the DUI arrest triggered an attorney general investigation of Harrison and the department, according to the lawsuit.
White says that during the investigation he spoke with a Decatur Daily reporter about the DUI arrest scandal and about another incident in the department.
Sometime after the investigation began, White claims, he met with Mayor William Marks, then the Athens Council president, and told him corruption in the police department was a serious problem.
"During that meeting, defendant Marks responded to Plaintiff: 'I don't feel as sorry for the person who called the AG's Office as I do for whoever called the media,'" the complaint states. "'That person is looking at serious trouble.'"
Two weeks later, then-Chief Harper began to interview all of the investigators in the department, to find out who had reported Harrison to the attorney general and the media, according to the lawsuit.
White says that during his interrogation by the defendants he voiced his support for the reporting of the Harrison incident to the attorney general's office.
He claims Harper immediately removed him from his supervisory position over the department's Honor Guard, which White had formed in 2004.
In January 2011, the department transferred White out of the investigations division, assigning him as a patrol sergeant on the day shift, although Harper confirmed that White's performance had been satisfactory, according to the complaint.
Later that year, White claims, the department began a disciplinary investigation against him, after his ex-wife reported that he had used his status as a police officer against her during divorce proceedings.
He claims the defendants asked his ex-wife about his involvement with the Harrison scandal and the newspaper reporter, and retaliated by opening the investigation.
Although Harper told White that his ex-wife's allegations had little merit, the department fired White in May 2012, according to the complaint.
The department claimed White could not perform his duties as a police officer because his access to the National Crime Information Center system had been suspended after the investigation.
But White says the department was retaliating for his protected speech.
The department never investigated or fired officers who were accused of running tags for non-law enforcement purposes, White claims. And he says it failed to fire officers who had committed much more serious offenses than White's alleged misconduct, such as having sex with prostitutes in custody and doubling hours on their time sheet.
White seeks an injunction, reinstatement and punitive damages for First Amendment retaliation.
He is represented by John Saxon of Birmingham.
Mayor Marks declined comment on the lawsuit. The Athens Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.