Crown Point police officer alleges retaliation by city in federal lawsuit
CROWN POINT — A Crown Point police sergeant filed suit Monday against the mayor and police chief alleging they are trying to force him out of the department under the guise of retirement after he voiced opposition to a mayoral appointee to the Board of Works.
The suit, filed by Sgt. James Poling, was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio in South Bend, according to Christopher Cooper, Poling’s attorney.
The lawsuit alleges that Poling, in his capacity as president of the Crown Point Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 176, wrote to Mayor David Uran on Feb. 23, 2012 to ask him to replace Randall Palmateer on the Board of Works and Public Safety in the wake of Palmeteer’s DUI arrest and a separate incident where Palmateer allegedly pointed a weapon at an on-duty city police officer.
The letter expressed the FOP’s dissatisfaction and amazement that Palmateer, in the light of those incidences, sits on the board that manages and regulates the Crown Point Police Department, according to the complaint.
“Mr. Uran is very, very angry Sgt. Poling, as representative of the FOP, would speak up on policing issues. Any reasonable FOP lodge president would have written same correspondence to the mayor. He was representing the FOP and the public interest,” Cooper said.
He said that letter started a chain of events that led to Uran and Police Chief Pete Land trying to force Poling into retirement in October.
“Sgt. Poling is a solid police officer. He is a police officer with great reputation in the community ... This is really an attempt to terminate him and coat is as a retirement,” Cooper said.
Monday Uran said he would caution residents to rush to judgment in the matter.
“We want to make sure the community understands there are two sides to every story,” Uran said, adding he is unable to comment on the particulars of the document because it relates to pending litigation
“We are very confident once we have the opportunity to tell our side the community will see we were protecting the best interest of our community. We have a very professional police department when all is said and done,” Uran said, adding when the case is settle he is confident the people will see he had the best interests of the community, the police department and public safety in mind regarding the matter.
The complaint goes on to state that in May Poling was involved in a vehicle pursuit with another officer. Officer Michael Brazil was cleared by the pursuit review board a few days later. Then in early July, the complaint states that at the direction of the mayor, heavy equipment was used to tear down a shed building owned by the FOP, which took up the matter at its July 19 meeting and discussed whether to pursue legal action against the city.
Five days later, the compliant continues, Poling received a letter from Land informing him he was being placed on desk duty pending the administrative review of his involvement in the May chase. His take-home car privileges were restricted and he was told he was not permitted to work law enforcement-related side jobs.
In September, following the completion of the investigation, Poling attended a meeting with Uran and Land, as well as the deputy chief of police.
“(Poling) was given an ultimatum to retire or (to) be fired for his actions in the routine, aforementioned pursuit. Defendant Uran exclaimed to (Poling) that the city’s insurance carrier would no longer cover (him),” the suit states.
Cooper said Uran and Land violated Poling’s constitutional and state rights by threatening to terminate his employment and refusing to convene a hearing or provide specific details of the charges. The suit also charges the defendants did not allow Poling legal counsel during various stages of the proceedings and did not allow him to call and cross-examine witnesses. It also contends Uran and Land refused to provide evidence.
“This is surely retaliatory in nature,” Cooper said.
Poling still works for the Police Department and is assigned to its 911 center.
City Attorney David Nicholls said he had not yet seen the complaint but it is city policy not to comment on pending litigation. Chief Land, and Palmeteer were not immediately available for comment. Cooper said he expected the suit to be served to Uran and Land Monday afternoon.
Palmeteer, who still sits on the Board of Works, is business manager for the Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council.