2 Mpls. officers sue, alleging retaliatory demotions

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2011 - 10:41 PM

A Minneapolis police lieutenant and a sergeant claim superiors transferred them to less lucrative assignments in retaliation for their work uncovering department corruption.

Two Minneapolis police officers filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing superior officers of retaliating against them for uncovering corruption within the department.

In the suit, Lt. Andrew Smith and Sgt. Pat King say the department transferred them out of an elite FBI-police task force and demoted them to positions that deprived them of "valuable overtime" and other benefits.

According to department records, Smith and King each got more than $65,000 in overtime pay in 2010, a year in which they both made more than Chief Timothy Dolan and were among the department's highest-paid employees.

In an interview last week, police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said the two weren't demoted. He noted their ranks had not changed and said: "A demotion is a reduction in civil-service rank." Palmer said Tuesday that neither Dolan nor others in the department could comment on pending litigation.

Although specifics were not disclosed in the suit, records obtained by the Star Tribune say Smith got $65,865 in overtime pay in 2010, atop his regular pay of $98,444. His total pay was $15,000 more than Dolan's.

King had $65,170 in overtime pay and total compensation of $152,016 last year. Smith and King were the two highest-paid officers on a 2009 list of department employees. Dolan was third.

City auditors have been scrutinizing police scheduling and payroll reporting, looking for opportunities to cut sometimes difficult-to-manage police overtime. Auditors hope to release their findings April 26.

Patrick Burns, attorney for Smith and King, said they "were the go-to guys in the department for complex investigations" in the violent crime unit. "Dolan approved all that overtime," Burns said in an interview. "You need overtime to put people behind bars."

The two were members of the department's Violent Offenders Task Force, which combined with officers from the FBI, the state Department of Public Safety and St. Paul police to form the Safe Streets Task Force in 2009. Federal officials said the new unit would partially fill the vacuum left by the disbanded Metro Gang Strike Force.

Named defendants in the suit include the city, Assistant Chief Janee Harteau and Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher. The suit says Harteau and Gerlicher relieved Smith and King of duty on Feb. 14.

The suit says Smith appealed to Deputy Chief Rob Allen, and within two hours, Allen told Smith he was "no longer relieved of duty" but would be transferred to the juvenile unit the following day. King was assigned to the department's licensing division.

Bypassed internal affairs

The officers' suit, filed under the state whistleblower statute, said their transfers were retaliation for their lead roles in the investigation of Officer Michael Roberts and others. Roberts was sentenced to a year in federal prison for public corruption and tax evasion.

Burns said that Dolan asked Smith and King to do the investigations, bypassing the internal affairs unit. But the assignment made them outcasts in the department, Burns said. At one point, someone hung a large plastic rat by a noose outside the office where they worked, Burns said.

Others in the department retaliated by making complaints against Smith and King, Burns said. "There were complaints and discussions of the overtime" he said, adding that no investigation of the overtime occurred, and none of the complaints was sustained.

Letter from Dolan

The suit cites a letter Smith and King received last year from Dolan, saying: "I am aware that there is potential for retaliation towards you as the result of [the Roberts] investigation."

Smith also claims in the suit that he faced retaliation for resisting a plan to fund the Violent Offenders Task Force through seizures from investigations. The suit said Smith objected by saying funding it that way would be a violation of state and federal law and "exactly the same type of policies that brought about the demise of the Metro Gang Strike Force."

In a meeting Feb. 16, Capt. Amelia Huffman told Smith "that he could not work any overtime in his new position, and that if he did, he might be disciplined," the suit says. King was told he could no longer do investigations, Burns said.

The officers also allege in their suit that the department released personnel data about them to the news media. The suit said that at the time of the release, King was an undercover officer, and releasing the data violated the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

Staff writers Paul McEnroe and Steve Brandt contributed to this report. Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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