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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Fired for Whistle-Blowing, Cops Say

(CN) - The city of Waldo, Fla., wrongly fired four police officers after they objected to having to write 12 tickets per shift in connection with a scheme to increase city revenues, the officers claim in a lawsuit.

In a lawsuit filed in the Alachua County, Fla. circuit court, the officers - Brandon Roberts, Jeffrey Pedrick, Roy Steadman, and Brian Shoaf - claim establishing a ticket quota to meet a specified city revenue projection was only one of the misdeeds they witnessed on the job.

They also accuse Police Chief Michael Szabo, the official who issued the ticket order, of playing fast and loose with his supposed hours worked by disabling his GPS while on duty, and claim another officer, Corporal Kenneth Smith of stealing hotel property and repeatedly engaging in illegal wiretaps.

The plaintiff officers say that on Aug. 8, 2014, they submitted a written complaint to Waldo City Manager Kim Worley, and requested the city hold an emergency meeting to discuss their allegations.

They then filed an online complaint with the Florida inspector general's office in order to secure whistleblower protection while they pursued their effort to expose wrongs at the Waldo Police Department.

According to the complaint, Worley rejected the requested emergency meeting of the city commission, and also rejected the plaintiffs' request to meet with each city commissioner individually.

"On August 20, 2014, Worley conducted a meeting with Plaintiffs and brought her own counsel in an effort to intimidate Plaintiffs with implicit threats about job security if they continued to pursue their objections and claims," the complaint continues.

Six days later, plaintiff Brandon Roberts showed a 40-plus page power point presentation to city commissioners and town witnesses detailing the alleged illegal conduct.

No immediate action was taken on the officers' claims, but four weeks later, they say, Worley proposed that the commissioners close down the Waldo Police Department due to "budget problems."

"Worley made this claim despite the fact that the City Commissioners already had approved the 2015 budget, and Plaintiffs had presented other and additional avenues of reducing the budget further to continue to operate the police department without the illegal revenue from Chief Szabo's quota scheme," the plaintiffs said.

"Notwithstanding the foregoing, the City Commissioners elected to close the Waldo police department, effective October 31, 2014," they said.

But there was a twist -- the city turned around and hired Chief Szabo and several other police department employees to "assist Waldo" going forward.

As a result of the department closure, "Plaintiffs were terminated without any significant prior incidents or disciplinary history with Defendant warranting their termination," the complaint says.

The plaintiffs seek front pay, back pay and reinstatement to their former positions on claims the city unlawfully retaliated for the whistleblower efforts.

They are represented by Richard Cellar of Davie, Fla.

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