Cincinnati police captain adds Mayor John Cranley to lawsuit against city manager

Says mayor makes him look 'racist'
Posted at 10:56 AM, Oct 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-04 17:43:07-04

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Police Capt. Jeff Butler has added Mayor John Cranley to a lawsuit he previously filed against City Manager Harry Black.

In the suit, Butler said Cranley has led "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."

"Cranley, Black and others in the City Administration conspired to orchestrate a smear campaign against Captain Butler designed to distract the public and the media from the substance and merits of Captain Butler’s lawsuit," the suit says. "Pursuant to this conspiracy, (Black and Cranley) held closed-door meetings at City Hall with prominent members of the African-American community wherein defendants described Butler as a “racist," a “bad cop," and someone whose federal lawsuit was intended to undermine the contracts between minority-owned business enterprises and the City of Cincinnati."

The suit also says Cranley and Black "instructed" prominent members of the black community to contact media outlets and make statements to damage Butler's image, as well as "arranged to have materials delivered" to local media meant to "establish that Captain Butler was a racist and a bad cop."

WCPO learned of the amendment to the lawsuit on Wednesday morning; the WCPO I-Team actually informed the mayor's office of the addition when asking for comment.

"This is a frivolous complaint, and we are confident it will be dismissed," spokeswoman Holly Stutz-Smith said.

Butler, a Cincinnati Police Department veteran, said he raised questions about how the city spends its 911 fees and grant dollars while he was overseeing the Emergency Communications Center. In his lawsuit, he claimed he should have been promoted to assistant chief, but that Black and Assistant City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian retaliated against him because he questioned the spending.

Read the entire lawsuit.

Butler also alleged Black was running public funds through a company owned by one of Black's close friends. That company, BFX LLC, is minority-owned, and Black said his friend was only an employee, not the owner.

The city manager dismissed the claims as frivolous, calling the lawsuit a personnel matter involving "an unhappy employee" who didn't get a promotion.

Butler's history -- particularly an investigation into whether or not Butler used a racial slur at work -- was brought into question by a prominent, local black preacher.

"He's attacking minority-owned businesses. As an advocate for minority-owned businesses, we can't let this happen," Rev. KZ Smith said. "When attacks like this come, it's trying to bring the numbers down."

Butler was accused of using a racial slur during an interview with the police department's Internal Investigations Section in February 1999. The allegation didn't come to light until five years later, when some members of Cincinnati City Council gave a copy of the tape to then-City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

The first to report its existence to Lemmie: Cranley, at the time serving his second full term on council.

"The contents are shocking and outrageous," he wrote in a Jan. 7, 2004 memo. "I realize that you have not likely known about the existence of this tape. Please let me know what actions have been taken and/or can be taken."

Butler was alleged to have said: "Can you go get my gun for me so I can go lock up some n*****s?" He denied using the slur. Instead, he said he thought he used the word "dopers" or "dealers." In 1999, he was a sergeant in the Street Corner Unit and said he worked on busting drug dealers and users.

None of the other officers in the room for the 1999 interview recalled Butler using the slur, according to an internal investigation report from March 2004.

Two separate forensic reviews -- one by Sound Images in downtown Cincinnati, the other by the FBI -- couldn't conclude what Butler said.

In the March 2004 report, the police department's Internal Investigations Section recommended a finding of "not sustained." It might not have mattered: The police union contract has a three-year time limit on using city records -- in this case, the video recording -- to discipline an officer. Even if investigators found Butler did use the slur, the city couldn't have punished him anyway.

Read more about the allegations here.

WCPO knew about the allegation and asked Black whether it factored into his decision about the assistant chief selections: Black said it didn't. Thirteen captains applied for three assistant chief positions, he said. A review panel -- which included Hill-Christian, Police Chief Eliot Isaac, Human Resources Director Georgetta Kelly and Assistant City Manager John Juech -- recommended three candidates to him. He agreed with panel's choices, he said.

On Saturday, Councilman Charlie Winburn echoed Butler's concerns, and said questions of the captain's character are being shared in an attempt to distract people from the substance of Butler's lawsuit. He reiterated those concerns Wednesday.

"I'm really concerned how the city of Cincinnati has come after this very fine Cincinnati police captain," Winburn told 700WLW's Bill Cunningham. "They're running a smear campaign against him."

Brian Gillan, Butler's attorney, argued his client is "standing up for what's right and asking questions." He said they tried to work out the issues before suing, but the city wouldn't budge. Butler didn't take his concerns to the Ohio State Auditor's Office or the Ohio Ethics Commission, Gillan said.

"He is using the legal system to protect his rights and respond to retaliation," he said. "This is not at all an attack on black businesses."

WCPO web editor Joe Rosemeyer contributed to this report.