Trial begins in 2011 whistleblower lawsuit filed by former Cleveland police officer

Trial begins in 2011 whistleblower lawsuit filed by former Cleveland police officer

September 18th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Nearly eight years ago, then-Cleveland, Tenn., detective Duff Brumley asked an area pharmacist to look into allegations that a Drug Task Force leader was abusing narcotics. But his search turned up nothing conclusive. And shortly after, in August 2010, the city fired Brumley for accessing information outside the chain of command and for failing to document his investigation, court records show.

The nearly two-decade veteran of the Cleveland Police Department, however, says he was experiencing retaliation for reporting various officials' behavior over the years, and through his attorneys, Brumley got to start telling his side of the story at trial Tuesday in Hamilton County Circuit Court. Judge Kyle Hedrick, of Chattanooga, will oversee the proceedings since the judges in Bradley County recused themselves from Brumley's 2011 lawsuit.

Duff Brumley, a former Cleveland Police Department detective, testifies in this 2011 file photo.

Duff Brumley, a former Cleveland Police Department detective,...

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Though attorneys for the city of Cleveland say Brumley misused department policy by accessing and then sharing personal information with the pharmacist, Brumley's attorney, Gerald Tidwell, said other officers in the department had been accused of "far more serious" behavior and weren't terminated until their behavior became public years later. Tidwell was referencing a 2008 meeting during which a few officers were warned against dating minors, snorting crushed prescription pills and viewing porn on department cellphones. Two of those officers were later prosecuted for sex crimes with the teenage girls.

Through several witnesses Monday, Tidwell painted a picture of a divided police department, led by then-Chief Wes Snyder.

According to trial testimony, Brumley said his problems with Snyder began after Brumley backed Steve Bebb in his 2006 bid for district attorney general in the 10th Judicial District. After Brumley made multiple calls to a woman inviting her to a Bebb victory party, she complained, court records show. Snyder then directed a harassment investigation be conducted by the city, although the incident occurred outside Cleveland, and ordered an officer to issue Brumley a citation.

That officer, Brian Smith, said he wrote a note at the bottom of that citation, saying Snyder had ordered him to do this.

"Why [did you write that]?" Tidwell asked.

"To cover myself," Smith said. "Because I didn't think it was the right thing to do."

The case was never prosecuted, Tidwell said. But a year later, case records say, Brumley was involved in a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe of Snyder for possible perjury. Snyder ultimately left the department in 2014 amid allegations of an affair.

Emily C. Taylor, one of the attorneys representing the city of Cleveland, said none of that changes the fact that Brumley accessed personal information without a court order and therefore violated policy. According to trial testimony, Brumley's 2010 search turned up nothing, but Snyder heard about it and authorized an internal affairs review that helped result in Brumley's firing.

"The proof will show that [other] officers [testifying for Brumley] did not misuse the portal, did not disseminate information and they didn't have a letter from [district attorney] Steve Bebb saying they can't be a detective anymore," she said.

The trial continues Wednesday in Judge Hedrick's courtroom.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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