A U.S. District judge on Thursday dismissed the case of a former Minneapolis police official who sued Chief Janeé Harteau and the city claiming wrongful demotion.
Once a deputy chief of patrol, Eddie Frizell alleged he was unfairly stripped of his command when he was demoted two ranks to lieutenant because of his decision to run for Hennepin County sheriff, then retaliated against for speaking to the media.
Judge David Doty dismissed the case by summary judgment, saying Harteau did not violate Frizell’s constitutional rights by restructuring her command staff, which included the elimination of Frizell’s position.
Frizell, a 22-year Minneapolis police veteran, was appointed in 2012 as deputy chief of patrol to head all five police precincts and a special-operations unit. Six months into the appointment, colleagues began to complain about his performance, according to court records. Harteau met with Frizell to discuss conflicts several times through 2014 and eventually contacted a city attorney to consider her options, including his possible removal, records show.
Before making a final decision, Frizell announced his intention to challenge incumbent Sheriff Rich Stanek. Harteau suggested he take a paid six-month leave, which he did, to focus on the campaign.
In his absence, command of the patrol division was handed to Assistant Chief Matt Clark, an arrangement that provided “more synergy and continuity,” Harteau said.
After losing the election in November 2014, Frizell met with Harteau to discuss returning to the department — a conversation Harteau secretly recorded, court records show.
Frizell was initially offered the rank of commander of operations and administration, which would have put him in charge of recruitment and hiring, but Harteau pulled the offer a week later after he was quoted in the Star Tribune as saying that he was “dismayed” with the move and that he “didn’t deserve this,” the suit says.
The lawsuit alleged that Harteau challenged Frizell’s account in the newspaper and questioned his desire to be on the Minneapolis force.
Frizell argued that as a military veteran, he should have been granted a “pretermination hearing” after being demoted on his first day back from his leave, which reduced his salary by $17,000.
Although Frizell was offered the commander position, he never accepted the position, according to testimony from both sides. Judge Doty said that fact voided his argument.
On the matter of free speech, judicial precedent states that a public employee’s speech is only protected if it raises an issue of public concern, rather than of personal interest. “Frizell’s comments to the press were purely job-related and designed to further his private interests,” Doty said.
A taped conversation about Frizell’s removal indicates that he understood Harteau’s decision to remove him from the executive team and even agreed with her. “His later statement to the press that he had not been given a reason for his removal was thus plainly untrue,” Doty wrote.
Kevin D. Hofman, Frizell’s attorney, said they will have 30 days to decide whether or not to appeal the case on grounds that certain facts should be determined by a jury. “I think he spoke truthfully to the press,” he said.