Police Union Leadership Sues City In Federal Court
WILKES-BARRE — Two Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association officials have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, alleging officials retaliated against them for raising concerns about leadership — including allegations that the police chief has been cooking the books to make it appear the crime rate went down.
Union President Sgt. Phil Myers and Vice President Dan Duffy filed suit last week alleging Mayor Tony George and police Chief Marcella Lendacky targeted them for retaliation because of concerns they raised about police leadership.
The complaint filed by Philadelphia law firm Mark B. Frost & Associates alleges that city officials failed to act when Myers informed City Administrator Ted Wampole that Lendacky was manipulating crime statistics.
“In these reports, crimes were reclassified as lesser offenses, in order to fraudulently affect the crime statistics for the City of Wilkes-Barre and in order to falsely portray a message that crime was decreasing in the city,” the complaint alleges. “No action was taken by the city or Mayor George in response to plaintiff’s request for an investigation into Lendacky’s management, nor was any action taken in response to Myers’ complaints to Wampole regarding Lendacky falsifying crime records.”
Lendacky did not immediately return a message seeking comment, and Wampole declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
George declined comment on the lawsuit in general because he had not been served with it yet, but he did respond to some specific allegations related by a reporter.
George said Lendacky was correct to make changes in the reports in question because they incorrectly reported thefts — such as copper pipes being taken from vacant houses — as burglaries. Lendacky changed the crime classification to reflect that the crimes were indeed thefts.
“You can’t have a burglary in an unoccupied house,” George said. “According to the crimes code, you can only have a burglary in an occupied structure. She corrected it to theft.”
“That’s one of the reasons I ran for mayor,” George continued. “The police department wasn’t being run the right way. (Standard Operating Procedures) were not being followed.”
Duffy, a former Scranton police chief who also served as director of the police academy at Lackawanna College, was fired from the Wilkes-Barre Police Department in October, purportedly because he violated a city harassment policy in an email to city officials about a union matter.
Myers, meanwhile, was suspended without pay and is scheduled for another suspension beginning today, according to the complaint, which alleges the officers lost pay and other benefits in retaliation for them raising concerns.
According to the complaint, the bad blood between Duffy and Lendacky began when she was a lieutenant and he filed a complaint alleging she was violating the department’s code of conduct.
As a result of the complaint, Lendacky and other lieutenants attended a training session, while Duffy was removed from her shift, the complaint says.
George, meanwhile, had a falling out with the union after Myers informed him the union would not endorse his mayoral candidacy because the union does not make endorsements, according to the complaint. In response to the perceived snub, George removed Myers from his position as community policing officer, the complaint alleges.
George on Tuesday disputed that allegation as well. He said the police union “gave me a check” during the mayoral campaign, which he considered an endorsement.
He also said he replaced Myers as community policing officer “because he never showed up to crime watch meetings.”
“For National Night Out, he was at the one in Plains Township — the city didn’t even have one. We had the biggest in the state when I was in and (now retired Wilkes-Barre police Capt.) Pat Rushton was in,” said George, a former city police chief.
George said he offered Myers a second chance with the position, but Myers turned it down.
Mismanagement, low morale
According to the complaint, the union in November 2016 raised concerns that the department was “mismanaged, that morale was unacceptably low, and that public safety had suffered.” But even after Myers informed Wampole in December 2016 about Lendacky’s alleged manipulation of crime reports, city officials failed to act, the complaint says.
In fact, last April Cmdr. Ron Foy prohibited officers from reviewing police reports other than their own, according to the complaint.
“This was done in an effort to hide Lendacky’s changing of reports in order to downgrade crimes,” the complaint alleges.
The union officials posted about Foy’s order on the union’s Facebook page, and received suspension notices because of the postings in September, a day before the order was rescinded, the complaint says.
The lawsuit alleges that Duffy was finally fired in October after he emailed George and Wampole about an “ongoing course of unbecoming conduct” by Foy — an email city officials have alleged was threatening.
Myers, meanwhile, was suspended without pay for refusing to identify the author of the Facebook post about the police reports. Last week, Myers received notice that he was being suspended from today to Feb. 1, a disciplinary action that is unrelated to a notice he received last month, the complaint alleges.
The suit contends that the city violated the First Amendment rights of the officers by retaliating against them for engaging in protected union activities. Named as defendants are George, Lendacky, Foy and the City of Wilkes-Barre.
The officers are seeking an order prohibiting the city from further retaliation as well as damages to recoup their lost wages and benefits and to compensate for their “loss of reputation” and “emotional distress.”
Duffy’s firing, along with disciplinary action taken against Myers, prompted calls for an outside investigation into the police department’s operations and management. In November, the city council unanimously approved paying more than $26,000 for the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association to conduct the assessment.
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