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CPD Captain suing city and Chief over reprimand after 'fatally flawed' internal investigation

Cincinnati police
Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 14, 2019

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Police Captain Jeffrey Butler is suing the City of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac over an internal investigation that was deemed "not fair or objective" by a peer review panel.

According to the suit, filed Wednesday morning, Butler has been absolved of the original reprimand issued on July 3 after the conclusion of an internal investigation, but the investigation documents themselves are still present in his personnel file.

The suit also states Butler has not been told whether or not he will be placed on a Brady List as a result of the investigation and reprimand.

This lawsuit is a direct response to the audit Butler was tasked with supervising on the Cincinnati Police Department's overtime, in which the audit found the department "had incurred significant overtime expenses, often as a result of inappropriate and illegal conduct."

Following the results of the audit, Butler reported to Chief Isaac and then-District 5 commander Bridget Bardua that police spent millions of taxpayer dollars in overtime during the semi-annual audit, with at least 15 officers each making tens-of-thousands of dollars in overtime pay. Butler said Bardua herself made $82,723 in overtime pay; Butler said her district specifically claimed inordinate amounts of overtime.

Butler said he believed the overtime abuse of District 5 and Capt. Bardua "constituted felony theft."

Butler claims Chief Isaac, who the suit states had an "inappropriate relationship with Capt. Bardua" did nothing about the audit findings.

Butler's allegations eventually led to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters impaneling a Grand Jury, which in turn subpoenaed the Cincinnati Police Department for documents related to the February 2018 semi-annual audit. From there, then-Ohio Auditor Dave Yost took up the investigation and requested supporting overtime documentation for the audit.

Butler's suit states "At least one banker's box containing numerous documents directly relevant to the Audit, and to the Auditor's investigation, and responsive to the Hamilton County Grand Jury Subpoena suddenly went missing."

Butler claims in his lawsuit that Chief Isaac and the City of Cincinnati knew those documents were missing, and had known since at least June 13, 2018.

In response to the missing documentation, Chief Isaac launched the internal investigation that ultimately resulted in Butler being formally reprimanded for "Failure of Good Behavior" on July 3.

"That internal investigation was not designed to find the missing documents or determine why they were missing; instead, it was designed to unfairly implicate Capt. Butler," the lawsuit states.

Butler's lawsuit alleges that, 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 Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey in March was also related to the issue. Isaac also transferred Butler to the Cincinnati Police Academy after the internal investigation, which he said "stripped" him "of any substantive responsibility."

Butler appealed the official reprimand to a Peer Review Panel which, on July 25, ruled that the reprimand be reversed.

The Peer Review Panel stated the investigation posed several conflicts of interest:

  • "A direct familial relationship between evidence of the investigation and investigative body."
  • "Due to an active Captain's Promotion List, the lead investigator was potentially in a position to benefit from a sustained finding of Captain Butler."
  • "While being implicated in the investigation, the Police Chief attended discussions related to this investigation prior to the conclusion of the investigation."

This reversal of Butler's reprimand should have effectively removed the disciplinary documentation from his personnel file.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday, however, alleges Butler's lawyers sent a letter to the City Solicitor of the City of Cincinnati, requesting confirmation that "not only was the reprimand removed from Capt. Butler's personnel files and ETS records, but that the underlying investigation itself would be removed."

The letter also requested that Butler "has not been, and will not be, placed on a Brady List."

Wednesday's lawsuit was filed after Butler and his lawyers never heard back from the City of Cincinnati about this.

If Butler were to be placed on a Brady List, it would likely hinder his career and discredit him in any court appearances relating to his job as a police Captain. A Brady List is predominantly comprised of officers who have been deemed untruthful or have been found guilty of some form of misconduct. Being on a Brady List would mean Butler likely couldn't testify in court against any defendant he may have arrested or helped to charge with a crime.

"Therefore, merely removing the reprimand from Capt. Butler's personnel file and ETS records will not cure the problem, since the inappropriate investigation itself will remain in Capt. Butler's personnel file and ETS records for future use against him," the lawsuit reads.

It continues on to say that, given Chief Isaac and the City of Cincinnati's "long track record of retaliation against Capt. Butler and others who challenge them," Butler had no choice but to file the lawsuit to ensure the internal investigation could not be used against him in the future.

A hearing for this lawsuit has been scheduled for 2 p.m. August 29, with Judge Robert Ruehlman.

Read the full lawsuit below:

Jeffrey Butler vs City of Cincinnati & Chief Isaac by WCPO Web Team on Scribd