Lawsuit claims city police corruption
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | January 25,2013
The Rutland City Police Department and its top officials are accused of covering up a long-standing practice of abuse in the department, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by a former city police officer.
Police Chief James Baker, Capt. Scott Tucker, Lt. Kevin Geno and city Police Commission Chairman Larry Jensen are named as defendants in the suit, along with former state Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Tremblay — who conducted an internal investigation of two city officers last year — and the city’s insurance carrier, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
All are complicit, according to Rutland Town attorney John Paul Faignant, in allowing or covering up the misconduct of several officers, and were active in or overlooked what was described as a systematic harassment of an officer who complained about abuses in the department.
That officer, Cpl. Andrew Todd, left the department last January after nine years on the force. Todd left the force to become a trooper with the Vermont State Police — a job that Faignant said his client accepted for lower pay and benefits due to harassment he said he was subjected to in the city department after filing a formal complaint in 2010.
“It’s scandalous. The entire thing is scandalous and this is the environment that officers in the city have had to work in for 15 years,” Faignant said in an interview Friday.
City officials named in the lawsuit had little to say when reached Friday.
“I have not seen it and have no comment,” Baker said.
City Attorney Andrew Costello responded to inquiries about the case with a statement: “The city will review Mr. Todd’s allegations and respond to them in court. Out of respect for the process and the parties involved, we will not be making any further comment at this time.”
In the lawsuit provided by Faignant — stamped as being received Friday by the Rutland civil court — the administrators at the city police department were accused of promoting a “corrupt culture” that promoted “special treatment” for their friends.
The lawsuit especially singled out former police Sgt. John Johnson, who retired from the force last April after five months on administrative leave.
Johnson and former Officer Frank Post were the subject of an internal investigation conducted by Tremblay, who was called on by the city to oversee the review.
The reason for the investigation was never made clear. After it was completed, Baker said there was “no evidence to support any type of criminal conduct,” but wouldn’t describe the nature of the review beyond saying it involved alleged violations of the department’s rules and procedures.
In Todd’s 16-page lawsuit, Faignant listed a range of abuses allegedly carried out by Johnson.
Faignant said Todd “personally observed Johnson lying on time reports, stealing, taking free items, failing to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of supervisor, sleeping on the job, on-duty sex with a female citizen and repeatedly making derogatory and racist comments and profiling African American citizens.”
The last of those allegations was the subject of a lawsuit that the city paid $30,300 to settle in February 2012.
That case involved a black man from New York who said he was singled out for discrimination by Post and Johnson during a drug investigation in March 2011.
Todd, who is black, wrote in a formal complaint sent to Geno in September 2010, that Johnson used derogatory and racist statements to describe suspects even after Todd complained to him.
“I guess his lack of respect for people and minorities got the best of him due to his inability to withhold such a horrific statement while in the presence of myself, another black guy/African American,” Todd wrote in the complaint to Geno.
After bringing his complaints to Geno, Todd became the subject of “unprofessional, derogatory and racist” comments from Geno, Johnson and Post, Faignant wrote in the lawsuit. In May 2010, Todd received a death threat from Post, according to the lawsuit.
Todd said he routinely checked with Geno about the status of his complaint against Johnson, but the matter remained unresolved more than a year later when Todd left the force, Faignant wrote.
In November 2011, Todd brought his complaints to Jensen, the Police Commission chairman, and a month later he informed Mayor Christopher Louras of his complaints, according to the lawsuit.
In the months after he brought a formal complaint to Geno, Todd said he learned that the lieutenant was building a case to fire him instead, according to the complaint.
Faignant wrote that Todd was told by fellow officers that Geno “had approached them with a request that they give negative and false information about (Todd’s) job performance.”
Faignant wrote that Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard was among those approached by Geno.
In a phone message left by Benard Friday, the sheriff said there was little he could say about Geno’s inquiry.
“As it’s stated in the lawsuit, Geno came and asked about giving a statement, but I didn’t give him a statement,” Benard said. “That’s about all I can say.”
Todd said he complained to Capt. Tucker that Geno had failed to respond to his complaint and was retaliating against him for making a complaint. Tucker responded, Faignant wrote, by saying Todd “was being ‘brash’ and insubordinate to a superior officer.”
Faignant wrote that Baker and Tremblay, who he said have a close relationship, covered up the conduct of Johnson and Post.
While Baker didn’t begin his job as interim police chief in the city until a month after Tremblay was brought on board to conduct the internal review, Faignant wrote that “Baker influenced Tremblay’s investigation of allegations of racist behavior and race discrimination against Johnson and Post, knowing Tremblay would do whatever Baker wanted him to do with that investigation.”
Baker formerly served as a state police colonel under Tremblay when he was head of the Department of Public Safety.
“Baker, Tremblay, Jensen and (VLCT) purposely directed the investigation and subsequent cover-up of the Post, Johnson, Geno and Tucker behaviors,” Faignant added later in the lawsuit.
Also included in the lawsuit was a list of nine counts, including hostile work environment, illegal retaliation, violations of the Vermont Constitution’s equal protection and due process and intentional infliction of severe emotional distress. Faignant included a request for jury trial but didn’t specify a dollar amount being sought in damages.
Calls to Todd and Tremblay were not immediately returned Friday.
Baker said no one in his department, including Geno and Tucker, could comment on the lawsuit.