The Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to fire a police dispatcher who made derogatory statements about the police department on Facebook and also repeatedly failed to show up for work without a legitimate excuse.
Shannon Choppa’s employment was terminated immediately after the board came out of a closed meeting with her to review the charges. She left accompanied by her boyfriend and declined to comment on her way out.
“I did make a statement in the closed session, you can get the minutes to see what I said,” she said. However, minutes of closed-door sessions by law are kept confidential and not generally released to the public or media.
Choppa, 42, of Utica, was accused of unsatisfactory performance, publicly criticizing the department, failing to report for duty and absenteeism without leave, according to township documents.
Her public criticism of the police department related to comments she posted on Facebook relating to the tragic death of a close family friend who drowned in the Clinton River after running from police in an apparent case of mistaken identity during a robbery.
Although she never named the department, officials said enough people knew her and were familiar enough with the situation that some people could figure out which law enforcement agency she referred to. As a paramilitary organization, most police agencies have strict rules and regulations regarding their employees’ behavior.
In part, the post read: “I can’t seem to let go of the pain of knowing that nearly a dozen people you work with chase your friend’s 25 yo (25-year-old) son into the Clinton River, listen to him beg and scream for help because he was drowning. Mocked him while he tried to stay afloat and then ask me what the name of the ‘Bobber’ they pulled from the river. Yeah, they let him drown. He’s dead.”
The post centered on the death of Scott Peabody-Cucuro, who drowned after he ran from police investigating the armed robbery of a Walgreen’s store on Gratiot Avenue this past summer. While officers were looking for the robber, Peabody-Cucuro was standing at a nearby bus stop and ran when he saw Macomb County Sheriff’s deputies coming his way on foot.
The man’s mother, Dorine Cucuro, said she believes her son ran because he thought he was going to be run over by the police cars patrolling the area during the robbery.
Peabody-Cucuro dove into the water and started to swim away before going under water. Police said they were unable to save him due to the hazardous conditions of the water, as they called for a rescue team from the fire department.
Choppa said she demanded an investigation into the situation and it started her problems with the department, but township officials said that’s not true.
In a statement of facts compiled by the human resources department and police Chief Fred Posavetz, Choppa had “numerous attendance” and disciplinary issues, and had been suspended for 20 days for insubordination and dissemination of confidential police information. She failed to report to work on numerous occasions and was considered AWOL at one point.
Choppa, a veteran of the U.S. Army, told The Macomb Daily previously that she suffered post traumatic stress from the drowning situation and has been undergoing professional counseling.
Officials said an internal investigation found her claims about officers mocking the drowning man were unfounded.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Posavetz, the police chief, declined to comment but said he will not fill the vacant position.
“I’m going to try to leave it vacant in order to try to save some money because we have a couple of part-time dispatchers who can pitch in and fill the job,” he said.
Police commanders privately said they were not aware that Choppa had been fired from a job with Kmart in 2003 until they read it in The Macomb Daily. The newspaper on Monday reported she filed a federal lawsuit alleging her civil rights were violated when Kmart terminated her when she was pregnant. A judge dismissed two of her four claims before she withdrew the lawsuit, according to court records.
“We could have fired her for that alone,” one police commander said. “She never disclosed that she had been terminated from her past job, and obviously we didn’t know about it.”
From The Macomb Daily