Cincinnati police captain alleges 'illegal' abuse of overtime pay in lawsuit

Cincinnati police captain alleges 'illegal' abuse of overtime pay in lawsuit
Posted at 2:59 PM, Apr 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-26 16:21:46-04

CINCINNATI -- A Cincinnati police captain is accusing a former district commander of felony theft for "systemic abuse of overtime."

Capt. Jeff Butler added new allegations and named Police Chief Eliot Isaac as a new defendant Thursday in a lawsuit he previously filed against the city, former City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley.

Butler was tasked with supervising the department's semi-annual overtime audit under former Assistant Chief Dave Bailey. According to his lawsuit, the audit found the department "had incurred significant overtime expenses, often as a result of inappropriate and illegal conduct," particularly in District 5 under Capt. Bridget Bardua. 

Police spent millions in overtime during the audit period, with at least 15 officers each making tens-of-thousands of dollars in overtime pay. In District 5, Butler said Bardua made $82,723 in overtime during the audit period, District 5 Neighborhood Liaison Sgt. Jason Voelkerding earned $126,225 in OT and Sgt. Jason Scott earned $92,215 in overtime.

The audit found excessive overtime payments which "enhance or maximize financial compensation for some personnel at the detriment of the department budget," according to Butler's lawsuit.

Police said that Isaac is aware of the lawsuit, but unable to comment on the accusations due to it being a pending legal matter.

"With over three decades of dedicated service and leadership within this organization, Chief Isaac is proud to serve the citizens of Cincinnati and to lead, what he believes, is the best Police Department in the country," police said in a written statement.

Bardua's personal attorney wasn't immediately available to comment.

In District 5, Butler alleged officers "developed their own shorthand phrases for scams to obtain unearned overtime illegally." For example, Butler said "touch and go" was used as code on holidays and weekends for an officer showing up for an hour to be seen by patrol personnel, then leaving. 

"The theory is if anyone asks if so and so was seen, the answer is always yes," he wrote.

Butler said he brought his concerns about overtime abuse to Bardua and Isaac several times. He said he believes the "systemic abuse" of overtime in District 5 under Bardua constitutes felony theft.

He told that to Isaac several times. Butler's lawsuit alleges Isaac did not initiate any discipline and instead "went out of his way" to protect Bardua.

Butler and Bardua live on the same street. In his lawsuit, he said he "routinely" saw her city-issued vehicle at her home during hours she claimed to be on duty or overtime. Butler also said he also saw Voelkerding driving city vehicles at or near his home during duty or while claiming overtime. Butler said he raised the issues with both Bardua and Isaac, but neither did anything.

Isaac protected Bardua because they are "close personal friends" and have an "inappropriate relationship," Butler's lawsuit alleges. Butler said he even saw Isaac's car in Bardua's garage during duty hours.

Instead of disciplining the officers who "flagrantly and illegally abused the overtime system," Isaac retaliated against Butler and others, the suit alleges. Butler said the ouster of Bailey in March was related to the issue. And Isaac transferred Butler to the Cincinnati Police Academy that month, which he said "stripped" him "of any substantive responsibility."

Hardy previously told WCPO that Butler's change in assignment was a standard change that happens in the department every few years. Bardua was also moved to Special Investigations at that time. And a memo from the city manager called Bailey "unmanageable" and stated that he allowed information leaks to news outlets.

Butler alleged Isaac violated his right to free speech and took retaliatory action against him for reporting violations of state law under Ohio's whistleblower law.

In the original lawsuit filed last September, Butler accused then-City Manager Harry Black of misusing funds and retaliating against him for whistleblowing. City officials denied those allegations. 

The next month, Butler added Cranley to the lawsuit, accusing the mayor of leading "a concerted public campaign to demonize Captain Butler as a racist, a bad cop, and someone whose lawsuit was designed to undermine the contractual relationship between the City of Cincinnati and minority-owned business enterprises."

The city's attorneys have argued Butler's lawsuit is "legally deficient" and previously asked a judge to dismiss it.