Former Charleston police officer sues city over firing
A former Charleston police officer is suing the city, claiming he was harassed and fired after he broke off an affair with another officer and divorced a relative of the department’s chief.
Christopher Thompson was fired from the Charleston Police Department in the spring after working there a little less than 20 years, according to a lawsuit he filed late last month in Kanawha Circuit Court.
According to Thompson’s lawsuit, he was married to Joyce Elmore Thompson, the cousin of Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster’s wife, from 1998 to 2008. Thompson claims he was also having an affair with Charleston police officer Cathy Peal for three months in 1995, according to Thompson’s lawyer, Andy Katz. Thompson says in the lawsuit that the department began to retaliate against him after he divorced Joyce Thompson and after Peal rose in the ranks and was in a position to hurt his career.
In 2011, Thompson claims, his schedule was changed and he was transferred from working with property and evidence to the community service division.
He says he took his department-issued cell phone to Don Peal, the police department’s IT head and the husband of Cathy Peal, to be fixed. His phone was never returned or replaced, despite his repeated requests, Thompson claims.
He was reprimanded and demoted for driving his wife at the time a small distance in his police cruiser, which he claims isn’t unusual for police officers, Thompson says in his lawsuit.
In November 2011, Thompson called Webster to discuss his work performance. Webster, the complaint states, responded that Thompson “was doing fine.” Thompson also says he told Webster he appreciated the less stressful assignment in community service, as he was going through a lot of personal stress dealing with his ex-wife.
Within days of that conversation, Webster informed Thompson he would be moved off community service in January 2012 to patrol as a shift supervisor, the complaint states. As a shift supervisor, he was placed with sargents he had supervised while he was a lieutenant, according to the lawsuit.
As head of the internal investigation unit of the Charleston Police Department, the lawsuit says Peal had influence regarding what charges would be brought against officers.
“Ms. Peal has a history of threatening police officers and retaliating against them if they cross her,” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Peal stated that she would ‘get’ anyone who was close to Plaintiff Christopher Thompson or Plaintiff Jill Robin Thompson.” Jill Thompson, Christopher Thompson’s current wife, is also suing the city.
In February 2012, Jill Thompson filed a complaint against Peal after she allegedly pushed another woman into her and called her a name at the Charleston Civic Center, according to the lawsuit.
During an interview with Webster about the complaint, Webster asked Jill Thompson if she thought Peal would retaliate for filing the complaint, the lawsuit states.
In June 2012, after another officer asked him about his affair and, after receiving a text message that a made-up story was going to “hit the papers,” Thompson contemplated and took steps towards committing suicide, he says in the lawsuit. Despite that, he claims, no one from the city followed up with Thompson about the suicide attempt, even though they knew about it, because his wife had called 911.
“The City did not make any attempt to determine whether Mr. Thompson’s mental state was affecting his work performance. Nor did the City make any attempt to offer Thompson a reasonable accommodation immediately after the suicide attempt, such as a temporary leave of absence or a temporary job reassignment to a less stressful position,” Katz wrote in the complaint. “Rather, the City had Mr. Thompson report for duty the next day, a duty that required Mr. Thompson to be armed and to interact with the citizenry and police officers of the City.”
Several weeks later, the city began an investigation into his work performance, according to the complaint. In August 2012, Thompson was suspended with pay pending further investigation.
The lawsuit alleges the city leaked information to media that Thompson was under investigation, when the department’s policy is to keep internal investigations private. An Internet search showed one story, by WCHS-TV in July 2013, on Thompson’s suspension.
Webster told Thompson in October 2013 that he would seek his termination, the lawsuit states.
Webster and Peal couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. City Attorney Paul Ellis hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but said he wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit asks that Thompson be reinstated as a lieutenant. It has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect statement from the lawsuit, according to Andy Katz, the Thompsons’ lawyer. The alleged affair between Christopher Thompson and Cathy Peal lasted a few months, Katz said on July 3, and not for years, as originally stated in the lawsuit. Katz said he plans to file an amended complaint to fix the error in Kanawha Circuit Court.