Three former officers with the California Police Department filed a suit against the city Tuesday in Cole County Circuit Court.
The three officers — Jared Allen and Nick Stobbart, who were fired from the CPD early this month, and Christopher Tew, who resigned in response — recently alleged misconduct in the CPD, largely centered around evidence mishandling.
Tuesday's court filing details other alleged areas of misconduct performed by officers at the CPD and sheds more light on those individuals' alleged efforts to cover up what had been going on.
Relevant non-parties in the filing include California Mayor Norris Gerhart, the California Board of Aldermen, City Attorney Ann Perry, CPD Chief Daniel Hurt, Capt. Ralph Parris, and CPD officer and evidence custodian Casey Shelton.
The filing alleges the plaintiffs regularly observed, during the entirety of their employment, evidence of criminal activity kept unsecured and freely accessible throughout the CPD office. Such evidence allegedly was regularly not organized, logged, tagged or otherwise identified or maintained such that it could not be associated with any individual or alleged crime. What was appropriately marked based on the department's chain of custody allegedly was randomly strewn in locations such as an unsecured refrigerator or unsecured on Shelton's desk, as directed by she or Parris, the lawsuit alleges. Evidence lockers allegedly were routinely unlocked and open while still containing evidence.
All of the evidence handling problems detailed violate the CPD's evidence and property policy, dated Nov. 1, 2018, according to the court filing.
Other issues outlined in the court filing include the improper storage of large bags of prescription drugs collected during the CPD's US Drug Enforcement Agency drug take-back program; such bags were allegedly randomly strewn throughout the office, fully accessible.
The filing also alleges Tew discovered unsecured marijuana in a cup holder of a patrol vehicle assigned to Shelton that Tew was using during a work shift.
Paperwork and records — such as those of alleged juvenile offenders, tax and payroll records of city employees, and sexual assault evidence collection kits — that had not been redacted were allegedly all kept freely accessible.
The court filing alleges each plaintiff regularly reported to Hurt and Parris regarding Shelton's failures to organize, log and secure evidence and records, but the pair would entirely ignore the reports or would refuse to take appropriate action.
Tew, with Allen and Stobbart present, allegedly reported many of these ongoing problems and violations to Gerhart, who stated he was already aware of many of them — including those identified as specific to Parris and Shelton — and intended to discuss them with Perry.
Gerhart proceeded to tour the CPD quarters accompanied by Parris; per the filing, the CPD captain made "significant efforts" to lead Gerhart away from the areas of the office containing most, if not all, of the mishandled evidence, records and items of personal property reflected in the group of former officers' report.
Parris allegedly later told Stobbart he had "demonstrated great skill" in steering Gerhart away from what he knew were significant violations of law affecting police effectiveness, exposing the city and others to civil and criminal liability. The filing also alleges Perry instructed Parris to move whatever violations she saw out of view when she toured the department following Gerhart's visit.
The former officers met with Hurt on Dec. 31, 2020, walking him through all the violations detailed in the filing during a 45-minute meeting. Hurt allegedly received a call from Parris during that meeting, during which Parris expressed surprise and ignorance to all of the issues Hurt described.
The plaintiffs allegedly witnessed Hurt say, among other statements, things like, "If anyone would come in here, it would look really, really, really, really bad, Ralph," and "The room's not secure so anyone could walk in here, you know, and walk from the front and come back here and take this stuff."
Allen and Stobbart also reported to Hurt regarding Parris' alleged violations of Criminal Justice Information Services reporting requirements, including providing information regarding the identity of an owner of a motor vehicle to a city alderman based off of his personal interest.
The former officers also reported to Hurt, according to the filing, that Parris allegedly falsified Allen's handgun training qualifications in front of Stobbart; Parris also allegedly admitted to Allen he'd forged his name.
The plaintiffs allege in the court filing that Allen otherwise would have reported Parris' records falsification and forgery, but didn't because of his wife's supervisory role at the Department of Public Safety. Allen also didn't make a report since Hurt had been absent on sick leave for more than a month prior, the filing states.
The filing alleges Hurt told the plaintiffs specifically he wouldn't disclose the reports made about Parris to him directly, that there "would be no retaliation," and no one would lose their jobs.
Allegedly, the plaintiffs discovered Parris had taken significant steps to cover up or hide everything Hurt had been informed about around Jan. 4.
Later that evening, the California Board of Aldermen met in a closed session, voting to terminate Allen's and Stobbart's employment. The pair was fired by Perry the following day, and allegedly not given a reason for their terminations. Tew tendered his resignation that evening, and had turned in his equipment by Jan. 11 as his working conditions had become "intolerable," per the filing.
Per the case filing, Tew had contacted Alderwoman Resa Dudley prior to the closed session meeting to inform her about the ongoing problems; Dudley cast the only dissenting vote regarding Allen's and Stobbart's employment.
The case filing alleges that because the plaintiffs' work had been exemplary since they'd been hired, it follows that the reason they were fired was because they and Tew had reported violations exposing "gross negligence and culpable violations of law and police department policies by its leaders and others."
Per the filing, the plaintiffs request a trial by jury. Each of the plaintiffs in the case, due to the damage to their reputations as law enforcement officers, is requesting authorized damages, plus interest; punitive damages; attorney fees; court costs; and any other relief consistent with substantial justice.
Allen, when contacted Wednesday night, said on behalf of the group of plaintiffs that the allegations outlined in the court filing "speak for themselves."
Perry declined to comment on behalf of the city Wednesday afternoon.