published Thursday, January 26th, 2012

City of Cleveland, police department, sued by fired detective

  • photo
    Sgt. Suzanne Jackson is pictured in this 2007 file photo.

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A Cleveland, Tenn., police detective who was fired last year for allegedly mishandling evidence filed a federal discrimination lawsuit Tuesday against Cleveland, the police department and its top leadership.

Suzanne Jackson's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, claims that the 19-year department veteran was discriminated against by male colleagues and superiors from the time she was promoted to detective in early 2008.

It states that she ultimately was fired in September 2011 after complaining about unequal treatment to her superiors in the department and to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

"You can see a pattern of conduct," said Stuart James, Jackson's attorney. "In the workplace, you are allowed to make a charge of discrimination, and you should suffer no retaliation or humiliation because of it."

Jackson is seeking damages for discrimination, retaliation, negligence, emotional distress, violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act and more, plus back pay, restoration of benefits, punitive damages and attorney fees.

Cleveland has 20 days to respond to the suit. Cleveland's city attorney, John Kimball, did not respond to a call for comment Wednesday. Police Chief Wes Snyder also is named as a defendant, along with police Lt. Robert Harbison, Capt. David Bishop, Detective Lt. Mark Gibson and Lt. Dennis Maddux.

Asked for comment Wednesday, Snyder said in an email, "Her allegations are false and easily proved false."

It's the second lawsuit filed against the department recently by a fired detective. Duff Brumley filed suit in August 2011, claiming his 2010 firing was retaliation by Snyder and 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb after he looked into allegations of drug use by former 10th District Drug Task Force Director Mike Hall.

Hall denied any drug use and left the task force a short time later. Brumley's lawsuit is pending.

Jackson's firing in September was based on allegations that she mishandled evidence, records show. An internal investigation said she violated department policy by removing a cellphone from evidence in a child rape case and not returning it. Internal investigators also said she mishandled several files in other cases.

Her lawsuit claims departmental officials actually were retaliating against her for complaining that she was treated unequally with fellow detectives.

The 20-page complaint details incidents that Jackson claims were discriminatory from 2008-10, ranging from the department not allowing her to attend schools and training classes that male detectives attended, to changing her schedule, issuing her inadequate uniforms and giving her a bad car.

It alleges that, when Jackson had a wreck in a city car, she was made to take an alcohol and drug test, which male officers who had wrecks weren't required to do.

When Jackson filed an EEOC complaint in October 2010, the suit alleges, she was offered a transfer back to the detective division if she would withdraw the claim. After that, Harbison began an internal investigation into her timesheets from 2008 and 2009 and made "false and misleading allegations" about "discrepancies," the lawsuit said.

Later, the city hired Knoxville attorney Pam Reeves to look into Jackson's EEOC complaint in preparation for mediation. The city ultimately decided against mediation, the complaint states.

But Reeves' report, which included improper and incorrect information about Jackson's sexual conduct, later was widely circulated in the department along with the content of the supposedly confidential EEOC documents "in order to create a hostile work environment," the complaint states.

"She was paid for by the Cleveland Police Department, she gave them the result they wanted, and she did it under the guise of preparing for mediation for the EEOC," attorney James said.

Jackson then was told she no longer would be assigned cases and that Bebb had said he no longer would use her as a witness because of the allegations of mishandling evidence. The claim said male officers who mishandled evidence were not disciplined or investigated.

The suit states that Jackson was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 15, 2011, and that someone from the department sent a packet of damaging allegations about her to a local TV station. She was fired the following month.

"It's a pattern of conduct to intimidate her, inflict emotional distress and to punish her because she's standing up and saying, "Look, this is a good old boys club,'" her attorney said.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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