RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - A police sergeant claims in court that he was fired for telling a CBS news reporter that his colleagues talked about killing President Barack Obama at a speaking event during his 2012 campaign.
Ronnie Brown sued the City of Richmond, Police Chief Ray Tarasovic, four other high-ranking cops or former cops, and the city's Chief Administrative Officer, in City Court, alleging wrongful firing and constitutional violations.
Brown claims the fiasco began unrolling in May 2012 during a roll call on the day that President Obama was scheduled to speak at the Siegel Center in Richmond, a building on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. Richmond police were to help provide security.
"On that date, Brown witnessed inappropriate comments made by two officers during roll call at the Fourth Precinct," the complaint states. "Brown and other officers heard two officers suggest inter alia that another officer should fire shots at the presidential event and it would be good to see the President's stage being bombed."
Brown says he filed a complaint with his supervising officer, but no action was taken.
Later in May, he says, he spoke to a local TV news station, which altered his voice to disguise his identity.
According to the complaint, he told a reporter for CBS affiliate WTVR: "There was an officer who was providing exterior security to the President on that day on the phone with a supervisor. The supervisor said to that particular officer, 'You're down there right? So, you can take a couple of shots. You might have to kill yourself, but you can take a couple shots.'"
The transcript of the news broadcast then quotes the reporter, Sandra Jones, and adds: "[Altered Voice of Source:] Another officer in the background started talking, and he said, 'Yeah, somebody should plant a bomb underneath the stage while they're on there and blow it up." (Brackets as cited in complaint.)
Brown says he told the reporter that another officer said, "Nobody wants to see [Michelle Obama] anyway unless she gets undressed or naked."
Brown says the police department sent a copy of the news story to the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, which restored his altered voice, identifying him as the anonymous source.
"Having decided that Brown was the individual who spoke to the press about the incidents he witnessed, on July 16, 2012, the Richmond Police Department opened an official internal investigation into Brown's involvement in the actions regarding the WTVR news story," the complaint states.
"The statement to the media was the sole motivation for the Richmond Police Department to initiate this internal investigation, and the investigation was designed to intimidate and punish Brown for making statements they believed he made to the press about the incidents he witnessed, which statement justly exposed the Richmond Police Department and its officers to public censure and scrutiny. This investigation was further designed and intended to intimidate other officers and employees of the Richmond Police Department from exercising their free speech and other constitutional rights in a manner that the Richmond Police Department would not support."
Brown says he was fired in February 2013 as punishment for talking to the press.
Named as defendants in addition to Tarasovic are former Chief of Police Bryan Norwood, police Capt. Roger Russell, Capt. Linda Samuel, Maj. Sydney Collier, and Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall.
Brown seeks $2 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.
He is represented by Thomas Roberts.
It is a federal crime to threaten to kill the president.
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