Cops Say Whistlesblowing Led to Their Punishment

     NASHVILLE (CN) — Two Tennessee police officers claim in court that they were placed on administrative leave for blowing the whistle on multiple instances of corruption in their department.
     Lt. Pat Stockdale and Lt. Shane Dunning say they were deprived of their due process and equal protection rights as employees of the Fairview, Tenn., police department.
     According to a lawsuit they filed Thursday in Nashville Federal Court, the police department allowed two Apex Security employees, Ronnie Williams and Billy Gross, to work as police, in exchange for former Police Chief Terry Harris getting a secondary job at Apex.
     Williams was arrested during a prostitution sting on Feb. 1 of this year, “after his first day on the job as a full-time police officer,” the complaint states.
     Stockdale worked as the Fairview Police Department’s public information officer, and says he gave a prepared statement to news media on Williams’ arrest, which allegedly enraged an assistant chief.
     Stockdale and Dunning also say they reported the connection between Apex Security and the police department to the FBI.
     In late February, the Fairview Board of Commissioners held a “secret meeting” in violation of state open meetings law and “directed that the plaintiffs be placed on administrative leave,” the lawsuit states. Harris had allegedly demanded Stockdale and Dunning be placed on leave after he was reinstated as police chief following a three-week suspension.
     Stockdale and Dunning say they have been on administrative leave since March 1.
     They claim they were “entitled to a hearing due to the stigmatizing effect of being placed on administrative leave, being publicly criticized by the board of commissioners, and having materials placed in their personnel files, all of which prevent plaintiffs from seeking similar alternative employment in other police departments.”
     The two officers allege violations of due process, equal protection and freedom of speech.
     “Plaintiffs exercised their First Amendment right by disclosing numerous instances of public corruption that were taking place in the Fairview Police Department, namely the Apex scandal, [and] the back-dating of government documents in violation of the Tennessee Code,” the lawsuit states. “The defendants violated, and conspired to violate, the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, in retaliation for exercising their right to speak out on matters of public concern.”
     Stockdale and Dunning also make claims of defamation and invasion of privacy, alleging they were falsely accused of “purported policy violations and illegal conduct.”
     “To date, the plaintiffs have never been provided any explanation about the extension of the probation period, or notice of charges against them, or an opportunity to be heard by a hearing or otherwise, or the reasons they were placed on administrative leave,” the complaint states.
     Stockdale and Dunning seek an unspecified amount of damages, including punitive damages. They are represented by W. Gary Blackburn in Nashville.
     Interim Fairview Police Chief Scott Smith said he cannot comment on the lawsuit because the police department has open disciplinary matters in the case.

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