Two police officers are accusing the Minneapolis Police Department of retaliating against them for, of all things, doing their jobs. The two have filed an employment law claim under the Minnesota Whistleblower statute.
Lt. Andrew Smith and Sgt. Pat King, members of the Violent Offenders Task Force - which works with the FBI, Department of Public Safety and St. Paul Police Department forming the Safe Streets Task Force - are accusing the Minneapolis Police Department of demoting them for leading an investigation against a fellow officer who was convicted of public corruption and tax evasion .
Because of the nature of the investigation, Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy Dolan sent a letter to the officers essentially foreshadowing the harassment by stating: "I am aware that there is potential for retaliation towards you as the result of the investigation." And, indeed, both officers did experience harassment from fellow officers.
As part of the officers' demotions, neither is able to work overtime. Lt. Smith was transferred to the juvenile unit and Sgt. King was transferred to the licensing division.
Lt. Smith and Sgt. King's attorney, Patrick Burns, told the Star Tribune that the two officers "were the go-to guys" on the elite Task Force. The fact that the two officers earned a lot of overtime pay while working cases shows the trust the department had in them. The two officers were among the highest paid in the department in 2009 and 2010, making more than Chief Dolan both years. Attorney Burns said that all of his clients' overtime was approved by Chief Dolan.
Lt. Smith also claims that he was retaliated against for voicing concern over a proposed plan to fund the Violent Offenders Task Force through seizures from investigations. Lt. Smith told superiors that funding the Task Force in this manner would be a violation of state and federal law.
Whistleblower statutes are mean to protect people who expose violations of the law or corruption, at great risk to themselves.
As in the case of officers Smith and King, retaliation against a whistleblower can take many forms, including:
- Reduction in wages/salary or benefits
Minnesota Whistleblower Statute
The Minnesota whistleblower statute is MSA 181.932. It provides that an employee cannot be retaliated against because he or she reports a violation of the law, or a suspected violation, to a designated authority. These authorities could include an employer, a government agency, or a law enforcement official.
The statute also specifies several other situations that can give rise to whistleblower protection. One of this is refusing to perform an action that the employee believes, with a reasonable factual basis, to be against the law.
Through his representation, attorney Burns is seeking to show that two trusted Minneapolis police officers were retaliated against for investigating a fellow officer for corruption. These two officers did nothing more than what was asked of them, in order to do their jobs. For that, they were demoted, lost ability to earn overtime and faced the scorn of fellow officers. That is not a justifiable outcome, in a state that values truth and fair dealing in the workplace.