A former East Ridge police officer, who was fired for violating "community standards," is now suing the city and two former officials, claiming his termination was in retaliation for voicing concerns over officer equipment and inconsistencies in promotion and discipline.
The officer, Adam Rose, was fired on Nov. 21, 2018, for reportedly having a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old high school student. An internal affairs investigation took place, and then-police Chief James Reed determined Rose had not violated any policies or broken any laws and recommended no action be taken. But then-acting City Manager Kenneth Custer fired Rose anyway, claiming Rose's conduct was "contrary to the community standards of honesty, justice and/or good moral values."
Rose alleges the firing was actually a result of Custer and other officers' quest to "get rid" of him for complaining, something that would be a violation of the Tennessee Public Protection Act, which protects at-will employees from being fired solely for refusing to be silent about or participate in illegal activities.
East Ridge city spokeswoman Bridgett Raper declined comment, stating "the city does not comment on pending litigation."
The lawsuit, filed this week by attorney Curtis Bowe in Hamilton County Circuit Court, describes Rose as a ringleader in officers' efforts to unionize last year.
Since he was hired in 2016, the department "has always treated its officers differently allowing some officers to obtain advantages over others" when it came to things like pay, promotions or shift work, according to the lawsuit. The department also "failed to provide its officers with appropriate equipment and necessary training."
And when officers complained, they were disciplined "or otherwise met with resistance to change," the suit claims.
In Rose's case, he was "repeatedly subjected to hostile treatment and animosity" while organizing the union and speaking up about things such as expired tactical plates, helmets that weren't designed for SWAT units and weapons that fell short of national standards, according to the suit.
During one meeting with supervisors, he was allegedly threatened to be disciplined for insubordination, the suit alleges. And in another instance, he was reportedly told by a SWAT team commander that "no one would have his back" if he did not stop complaining.
The same commander then told Rose he wanted Rose to know that he was "a sack of s--- and I call you a sack of s--- behind your back!" according to the suit.
By October 2018, an internal affairs investigation was opened into the claim of an "inappropriate relationship" with an 18-year-old high schooler.
The detective working the case reportedly consulted two separate state agencies, both of which agreed that no crime had been committed. But Rose was fired the following month, and the city has stood by the termination, saying the student's age was irrelevant because he violated community standards.
The lawsuit points to an inconsistency in officer discipline.
For example, some officers "who actually broke policy were not subject to hostility, ostracism or even discipline."
In one case, an officer "choked out" a man who was handcuffed and sent him to a hospital intensive care unit, which was in violation of department policy. That officer is still employed, the lawsuit states.
In another case, two non-union officers have engaged in pursuits that were against policy and damaged their patrol vehicles by running over a motorcycle or hitting a deer. Those two officers weren't disciplined and remain employed, according to the lawsuit.
Finally, two officers — one unionized and one not — were missing evidence (narcotics or paraphernalia). Only the union officer was disciplined and punished by being removed from the crime suppression unit and sent back to patrol, the lawsuit states.
At one point, Rose told then-city councilman Brian Williams about his concerns, something that "broke the proverbial camel's back" and was a key factor in Rose's termination, the suit states. And that constituted a violation of the Tennessee Public Employee Political Freedom Act, which protects public employees from retaliation for communicating with an elected public official.
The lawsuit also claims the city and its police department's procedure for addressing employee grievances "is a sham" and a violation of due process rights under Tennessee law. That's because the same person who approves a termination — at the time, Custer — is the same person to whom an employee must appeal.
"This process is not open [or] fair," the suit states.
If an appeal is denied, a personnel board would hear a second appeal. But there was no board in place at the time Rose was fired, so officials had to "hurriedly put one together with no training to force Officer Rose out" and they blocked Rose from calling witnesses to testify on his behalf, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also accuses the defendants of defamation.
"[They] published that Officer Rose engaged in 'promiscuous and embarrassing behavior,' something that was "not only untrue but maliciously directed toward painting Officer Rose in a pejorative light."
Rose is asking for $900,000 in damages, as well as back pay and benefits.