Jon Campisi Jun. 20, 2013, 5:04pm


A veteran Philadelphia homicide detective has filed suit against the city and its police

department over claims that he was fired from his job without due process stemming from allegations of overtime abuse that were deemed to be unfounded.

Kenneth Rossiter is suing the City of Philadelphia, its law enforcement agency and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey for wrongful termination, despite the fact that the investigator was reinstated to his position by an arbitrator nearly a year after the termination.

The complaint says that Rossiter was fired without due process, not because anyone with first-hand evidence believed he was defrauding the city by abusing overtime, but because Ramsey was looking to generate “favorable press” and to punish the police officers’ union for filing a labor grievance over a then-new disciplinary code for officers.

The suit alleges that Ramsey acknowledged in an interview with local media the day after Rossiter’s firing that rather than simply rescheduling a Police Board of Inquiry hearing that had already been postponed once, the commissioner pulled Rossiter’s file and determined that the firing was consistent with past actions Ramsey had taken against officers who have had allegations of overtime abuse lodged against them.

“Indeed, the capricious termination was consistent with his practice in Philadelphia and his prior history in Washington, D.C.: Commissioner Ramsey’s practice is to utilize direct actions arbitrarily with negligible investigation and a focus on short-term politics leaving his erroneous terminations to be resolved by arbitrators later, with the vast majority of his direct actions being eventually reversed,” attorneys James E. Beasley, Jr. and Maxwell S. Kennerly wrote in the suit they filed June 18 on behalf of Rossiter.

The complaint, filed at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, paints Rossiter as a model police officer, who was “unjustly fired without due process because he worked too hard keeping us safe.”

The attorneys claim that Rossiter often worked the “last out” shift from midnight to 8 a.m., given that many city homicides occur during that time frame.

Rossiter often worked from home due to the limited resources available in the Homicide Unit, the suit states, and he frequently assisted without pay on cases not assigned to him.

The detective was also often praised by families of homicide victims for his “thorough work and the time he spent with them, both while on duty and while on investigation overtime.

“Det. Rossiter’s tireless efforts and extraordinary level of overtime work for the City – done with the approval and knowledge of his supervisors in the Homicide Unit, who rightly believed the nature of the work demanded officers responsive to every little rumor or suspicion of unsolved crime, officers with an infinite capacity for taking pains – made him a target,” the complaint reads.

Nevertheless, it is alleged that Rossiter was fired from his job of three decades for reasons that were likely political.

A year after his firing, Rossiter was ordered reinstated by an arbitrator who found that the city had no policy against officers working from home in certain situations.

The arbitrator also ruled that the city failed to proffer any evidence or testimony suggesting that Rossiter was not working on cases when he said he was, according to the civil action.

While Rossiter is now back on the force, his attorneys claim that his reputation has been severely damaged, with individuals both inside and outside of the department continuing to view the detective as an “overtime cheat.”

Some colleagues have even refused to work with Rossiter believing that their affiliation with an officer who has been the target of the Ramsey administration could lead to potential retaliation.

“He has suffered and continues to suffer a retaliation and the aftereffects in his workplace, and a considerable loss to his earnings given his compromised ability to testify in court now – an injury that will persist even if he leaves the Department entirely and pursues work in private investigation,” the complaint states.

Rossiter claims that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights have been violated.

He seeks to have the court enjoin the defendants from continuing to violate other officers’ rights through what he terms “arbitrary Commissioner Direct Actions” in lieu of the Police Board of Inquiry system.

Rossiter, who has been with the police department for more than 30 years, was first assigned as a detective to the Homicide Unit back in 2002.

The overtime abuse claims lodged against Rossiter, the lawsuit says, first arose in 2008 when local media published reports about such abuse among various city employees.

The police department, the complaint states, was the subject of “particular public concern and scrutiny.”

In Rossiter’s case, the detective was singled out in an Aug. 12, 2010, Philadelphia Daily News story that noted the plaintiff earned the most overtime out of all workers on the city’s payroll, with the detective brining in a total annual income of $163,923.

Soon after the story published, the police department received a complaint from an “anonymous retired neighbor” of Rossiter’s reporting that the detective was often at home when he was believed to be doing overtime police work, the complaint shows.

The neighbor, however, was never located or identified.

Police Internal Affairs officers subsequently opened up an investigation into Rossiter, which include conducted surveillance on the plaintiff.

However, the investigators subsequently admitted that Rossiter was likely either working from home, or preparing to testify in court – both of those are permitted under the Homicide Unit’s policies – during the times he was observed at his house and also lodging overtime hours, the suit says.

Furthermore, Rossiter had been working on two “extremely complex and time-sensitive” cases during the period of Internal Affairs surveillance, the complaint states.

In late March 2012, however, the police department charged Rossiter with “conduct unbecoming,” alleging the detective had violated departmental policy for making a false entry in a department record.

In June of last year, Commissioner Ramsey, in interviews with the local press, falsely accused Rossiter of abusing overtime and told of his intent to terminate the veteran cop.

“Defendant Ramsey expressed no concern that such termination would be without due process, and would be based on allegations of falsifying hours that the Department’s own investigators believed to be untrue,” the suit states.

The plaintiff was told on June 18, 2012, that he would be fired, with an effective date of July 15 of that year.

“Defendants terminated Plaintiff pre-textually as part of their bargaining with the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] and to gain favorability with the press, without regard to the falsity of the allegations against Plaintiff or to Plaintiff’s right to due process,” the complaint reads.

During subsequent hearings, however, an arbitrator determined that it was an accepted practice for homicide detectives to log overtime hours while working cases off-site.

The arbitrator, identified as David J. Riley, determined that the defendants did not have just cause to fire Rossiter and ordered the city to reinstate the detective to his former position.

Rossiter returned to work on April 22 of this year, but claims he continues to suffer harassment and retaliation stemming from the earlier firing and bad press.

In addition to the declaratory relief, Rossiter seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs.

 

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-03429-JHS.

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