Officer: I was fired for being a whistleblower
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Officer Matt Disney
ABERDEEN, Ohio -- Words used to describe Matt Disney’s police work in his only Aberdeen police performance review include “effective,” “takes responsibility” and “honors commitment.”
The officer earned top scores in seven categories, and received a letter of commendation in 2012 for his “effective traffic enforcement.”
But Disney is no longer patrolling the Brown County community. Instead, he’s fighting for his job after being fired.
Disney claims he was dropped by the Aberdeen Police Department after he answered questions about his boss, Police Chief Greg Caudill.
Before he was fired, Disney told Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) agents that Chief Caudill was working two jobs at the same time – one as police chief and another at a private company. Caudill would later find out about Disney's conversation with investigators, according to a secret recording obtained by the I-Team.
"(Caudill) would call and have me clock him in," Disney said. “I felt that what I was doing was wrong or could get me in trouble, but I didn't want to go against my chief's orders."
Caudill has not been charged with a crime, but state agents are investigating him. The I-Team uncovered a July 7, 2013 file from BCI investigators asking for the chief’s payroll records.
Later that same month, Officer Disney said he found pay stubs from another company made out to Caudill tucked above the visor of a police cruiser.
Aberdeen Mayor Harry Foxworthy confirmed Caudill is under state investigation, but refused to do an interview with the I-Team. Caudill, who is still on the job while under investigation, also would not speak to WCPO.
Council member Bille Eitel said Disney’s troubles began last May after the young officer complained to his corporal about the chief asking him to punch his timecards.
Since Disney spoke with investigators, a department sergeant failed the officer on his annual firearms qualification -- one of five reasons given for his recent termination.
"He's being retaliated against," Eitel said. “He felt that Caudill was working elsewhere and somebody was clocking him in and out. In fact, he was honest enough to tell me that he had clocked him in and out himself."
But Disney got in trouble for speaking out.
On June 4, he received a written reprimand and was suspended for three days without pay.
Caudill wrote in Disney's reprimand , "he as well as another officer had been discussing personal, privy information related to myself to a councilman… I suspended officer Disney for three days without pay as a result of his behavior."
Disney said this was the first time he’d been reprimanded or written up.
Concerned about retaliation, officer Disney said he secretly recorded Chief Caudill when he reported for duty on July 4 of this year.
In the recording , Disney asks Caudill about the parade barricades, “Is all the stuff down off the street, as far as blocking off and stuff? I didn't know if you need to move anything."
Caudill responds, "Listen, don't call BCI on me and then come in and be my buddy. You understand? Now hit the street."
Disney's file is now full of reprimands, all dated after he began answering questions about his chief.
The reprimands include write-ups for dereliction of duty and absenteeism.
After learning he failed his firearms qualification with the Aberdeen Police Department, Disney went to an outside agency 12 days later and passed the state shooting test without missing a single shot.
Just days after returning to duty from his suspension, Disney was written up again – this time for responding to a home invasion outside the village.
"The call was for a B&E (breaking and entering) in progress with a loaded shotgun in the bedroom,” Disney said.
Disney was dispatched to meet a frightened family at a gas station in the village of Aberdeen. They believed there was a gunman at their home.
When a lone Brown County deputy then asked Disney to go with him to the family’s home outside the village as backup, Disney tried to call his sergeant for permission but was unable to reach him.
"As the call went out, I attempted to call Sgt. Matt Nickolas," Disney said. "If I were in the same situation, they would come and back me up, so I should go and back them up."
The reprimand that followed stated Disney “failed to obtain authorization from a supervisor to exit the officer's jurisdiction…when not dispatched to the call."
Disney was terminated Oct. 23 for "gross neglect of duty, failure to obey orders given by the proper authority and other reasonable and just cause."
Disney recently appealed his termination to the village council, but a source in village government tells the I-Team he may not be entitled to an appeal.
When the I-Team told Mayor Foxworthy we had obtained Caudill’s pay stubs for work
at the private company, the mayor said he personally approved the chief’s second job and leave of absence.
Knowing what he knows now and the outcome of his actions, Disney said he would still do everything the same.
“I believe your integrity is all you have at the end of the day," he said.
Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little said the investigation into Caudill's other job is complete and her office is waiting on the case file from BCI agents.