BEAUFORT, S.C. (CN) – A police officer claims in court that when he complained about violence and harassment from the police chief, the town manager called the force together and read them “a poem and a story about farm animals telling the truth and gossiping” – suggesting that the complaining officer was a liar.
Christian Gonzales claims he was suspended and demoted, and when he appealed his suspension, the town manager replied, “Kiss my ass.”
Gonzales sued the Town of Bluffton, Police Chief David McAllister and Town Manager Anthony Barrett, in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas.
Gonzales, formerly a senior sergeant, claims he had excellent performance evaluations and was promoted several times while working for Bluffton police.
He says he “fell out of favor with the chief” when he asked to be transferred to avoid reporting to one of the chief’s protégés, with whom he had “moral and ethical differences of opinion as to how to perform police work.”
After Gonzales asked for the transfer, the chief “became angry” at him and started harassing him, according to the complaint.
Gonzales says things got worse after an April 2011 incident, during which the chief became violent.
“In April of 2011, plaintiff heard someone trying to get into a holding cell where a training session was about to be held and as a practical joke, plaintiff leaned against the door and held it shut for a couple of seconds to prevent the person from entering,” the complaint states.
“When plaintiff realized it was Chief McAllister who was trying to enter the room, he immediately allowed the chief to enter.
“Chief McAllister angrily entered and approached plaintiff and pushed him, causing plaintiff to lose his balance and stumble.”
Gonzales says town employees, fearing retaliation, refused to give him a copy of the camera recording from the cell.
He claims the chief did not discipline him after the incident, but started “picking on him.” He says the chief asked him to move his car to a muddy parking lot, unfairly criticized him and his team, and tried to embarrass him in front of his officers.
He claims that in September 2011, he complained to Barrett about the mistreatment, but the town investigated only the pushing incident.
Gonzales claims witnesses were reluctant to talk to the town’s attorney, because they knew McAllister and the attorney were friends.
“At the time the town manager requested an investigation into the pushing incident committed by the chief, the town manager knew that approximately twelve (12) other officers had previously filed complaints about the chief accusing him of harassment, favoritism and other misconduct,” the complaint states. “Upon information and belief, the officers had audio recording of conversations with the chief to support their complaints. When the chief found out that some of his conversations had been recorded, the chief instituted a policy that prohibited anyone from recording what the chief said to them.
“The town manager also knew or should have known, among other facts, that a) there were pending state and federal lawsuits against the town involving the chief; b) an officer had filed a grievance/complaint with the town stating the chief instructed him on two occasions that if the chief’s wife were to ask where the chief was, the officer was to provide an alibi as to the chief’s whereabouts; c) officers had previously reported seeing the chief driving a town vehicle after the chief had been drinking too much alcohol; d) the chief told officers he ‘hated’ one of his female officers and had a plan to get rid of her; e) the chief’s statement in a deposition under oath that he had not read confidential transcripts of the complaints that approximately twelve (12) officers had made about the chief was disputed by another officer; and f) there were allegations that the chief had misappropriated office equipment that belonged to the Town of Bluffton.
“When the investigation conducted by the town into the pushing incident was concluded, it was determined by the town attorney there was evidence of ‘contact’ between the chief and plaintiff.
“Nevertheless, the town manager and the chief then assembled and addressed all of the uniformed officers in the police department including plaintiff.
“The town manager read the assembled officers a poem and a story about farm animals telling the truth and gossiping.
“After reading the poem and the story, the town manager informed the group of officers that the following facts were not true: the chief was having an affair, an officer had been demoted for writing a ticket the chief disapproved of, the chief drinks and drives, and the chief pushed an officer.
“The town manager then likened the gossip that had occurred between the farm animals in the poem to the allegations that had been made about the chief pushing an officer.
“The town manager stated he was not going to fire the chief, that he stood behind the chief, and that the gossiping needed to stop and everyone needed to get back to work.
“Everyone in the room knew plaintiff was the person who had complained about the chief pushing him. The comments made by the town manager and the chief inferred [sic; recte: implied] plaintiff was a liar.”
Gonzales claims McAllister and Barrett suspended and demoted him, saying his allegations were unfounded.
“Plaintiff’s suspension and demotion were orchestrated by defendants town manager and Chief McAllister in retaliation for plaintiff knowing about certain things occurring in the police department that the town manager and Chief McAllister were afraid plaintiff would report or would become public,” according to the complaint.
Gonzales says that, when he appealed the town’s decision, Barrett’s response was: “Kiss my ass.”
Gonzales says Barrett was aware of the many complaints against McAllister and knew that the town attorney, McAllister’s friend, had mishandled previous investigations.
He seeks damages for grossly negligent supervision, slander, retaliation, civil conspiracy and civil battery.
He is represented by Ashley Twombley with Twenge & Twombley.
According to local news reports, McAllister resigned as chief of police on May 24, effective Aug. 1, to take a position with a security firm in Atlanta.