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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
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Fired Cop Says He’s Been Denied Due Process

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - A former Newport News, Va., police officer is seeking $10 million on claims the city wrongly fired him based on criminal charges he was cleared of almost 20 years ago.

In his federal lawsuit, Jason Leon Diedrich readily admits that he was charged with perjury and grand larceny in 1995, about four years after he joined the force, and that his arrest was highly publicized by television news stories and newspaper articles.

The charges and the publicity associated with them also led to him termination on May 26, 1995.

Diedrich pleaded not guilty to all charges, and after the case went to trial, a jury exonerated him. The officer then went through a formal grievance procedure, and on October 2, 1996, he was reinstated with full back pay and benefits.

But the officer says contrary to his expectations, his return to the force far from settled the matter.

In October 2002, six years after his reinstatement, then-Chief of Police Dennis Mook transferred him from a law enforcement position to a civilian post in the records department. Mook also stripped Diedrich of all law enforcement duties and secondary employment positions.

Diedrich filed a pro-se action to compel Mook to reverse his decision, only to have the suit thrown out for failure to state a claim.

Diedrich was then transferred for the department's recruitment division, where he conducted background investigations of new recruits until December 2010. By this time, Mook had been succeeded as chief of police by James Fox, and when the position of training detective became available, Diedrich sought and was granted permission to apply.

"The Plaintiff ... subsequently finished in first place in the competitive process, and was deemed most qualified for the promotion and transfer[ed] to the position," the complaint says.

Diedrich says while assigned as a training detective, he was certified as both a general police instructor and a defensive driving instructor.

He was assigned to work as a coordinator at the Newport News Police Training Academy, and Chief of Police Fox also reinstated his ability to seek secondary employment, leading Diedrich to secure a part-time position as a courtesy officer for Abbott Management, an apartment management firm.

Diedrich, however, says his change in fortune was soon to come to an abrupt end.

On January 16, 2014, his complaint says, a new Chief of Police, Richard Myers, was sworn in, and 15 days later, he suspended the Diedrich "pending further review of his 1996 charges of perjury and grand larceny."

At a subsequent meeting, "Defendant Chief Myers stated that 'it did not matter what a Court found,' 'it did not matter what a jury found,' 'it did not matter what the position of the prosecutor was' and 'it did not matter what a grievance panel ruled.' It remained the Department's position that the Plaintiff committed the misconduct offenses as charged in 1996 and he intended to take action on that basis," the complaint says.

Diedrich says two months later, he received a letter signed by Chief Myers indicating that his entire internal affairs file had been reviewed and that the department concluded there was ample evidence to support the actions of prior chiefs of police.

As a result, on March 16, 2014, he says he was punitively transferred, suffering a significant demotion tantamount to an outright dismissal. At the same time, he says, the chief also rescinded the department's approval of his part-time, off-hour work.

Diedrich says the city then denied him due process by refusing to allow him to appeal Chief Myers' decision.

"The Defendants, through their refusal to continue to fully implement and enforce the 1996 ruling of the Grievance Panel and the denial of due process from the 2014 demotion and transfer for punitive reasons are causing, and will continue to cause, irreparable harm to the Plaintiff, including but not limited to further violations of his legal rights."

In addition to the $10 million in damages, Diedrich is also seeking reinstatement to his former positions and an order that his personnel records reflect his exoneration on the 1996 charges.

He is represented by Kevin Shea of Hampton, Va.

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