Coup d'cop? Cincinnati police captain claims effort underway to oust Chief Eliot Isaac

CINCINNATI -- Three longtime, high-ranking Cincinnati police officials are working behind the scenes to force Chief Eliot Isaac out of office, a district commander alleged Monday.

Capt. Bridget Bardua, who oversees Police District Five, also claimed the three men treat her differently, with constant "Monday morning quarterbacking," because she's a woman. She said that's despite violent crime declining last year while she was in charge.

The allegations are detailed in a letter sent Monday to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and in a memo to Isaac himself from Bardua, Sgt. Jason Voelkerding and Officer Melissa Cummins. Voelkerding and Cummins are part of the neighborhood liaison unit Bardua supervises in District Five.

WCPO obtained a copy of the documents Monday afternoon through a public records request.

Bardua alleged in her federal complaint that Assistant Chiefs David Bailey and Paul Neudigate, as well as Capt. Jeffrey Butler, targeted her because she supports Isaac, who is black. We've contacted the Cincinnati Police Department, to find out if any officials wanted to respond to the allegations.

Isaac came up through department ranks and was named chief in December 2015, just a few months after his predecessor, Jeffrey Blackwell, was dismissed in a public spectacle at City Hall.

M.J. Hugan, attorney for Bardua, Voelkerding and Cummins, said the internal complaint would normally be run up the chain of command within the Cincinnati Police Department. However, because the men named at the complaint sit near the very top of that power structure, Hugan said they were allowed to bypass that normal process and take it to the top. 

The three alleged rules for overtime and off-duty details seemed to change arbitrarily when Bardua took command of District Five -- a district Bailey and Neudigate themselves once supervised.

Cummins suddenly was the target of the department's Inspections Section, the memo said -- and some of that section's sergeants have even "appeared at her details and have made derogatory comments about her."

Bardua also claims Butler showed up at her home about a month ago; the two live on the same street, according to the address Butler provided in his pending federal lawsuit against the city. During that encounter, Butler told Bardua he was upset about an overtime audit, and that Issac "'will not survive this. It's either you or him.'"

Bardua also said officers under her command are being dragged in for interviews with internal investigators. But instead of talking about the officers' own performance, Bardua alleged they're being questioned about her work as district supervisor.

According to a memo, that's just "a thumbnail sketch of the progressively hostile work environment" District Five staff endure.

"Captain Bardua should not have to explain why she approved or did not approve something simply because her male peers and supervisors have decided to abandon past practice and interpret and apply rules, procedures, job descriptions and policies differently than how they were interpreted and applied under male commanders," it states.

The city will likely defer to the federal government's investigation, city spokesman Rocky Merz said.

It's the latest in a string of controversies swirling around the Cincinnati Police Department generally, and District Five specifically, over the past few months.

Others have alleged the department treated its 911 center as a "dumping ground" for sergeants who couldn't cut it in the field; that City Manager Harry Black retaliated against Butler for questioning how the city spends 911 money and grants; and that District Five headquarters was a health hazard. In the final case, a federal agency reported last week there's no reason to believe the building was tied to cases of cancer among police union members.

"I respect the rights of our employees to voice their concerns and welcome the input from the U.S. EEOC, should they determine an investigation is warranted," Isaac said in a statement late Monday night. "It is my hope that we can work through differences and resolve issues in a manner that best serves our employees and ultimately the public."

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