OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty has been accused in an ethics complaint of retaliating against the top four officers under his command for seeking overtime pay.
The four deputy police chiefs are pursuing a grievance against the city over the unpaid time.
“We were threatened and an attempt made to intimidate us just for the exercise of those rights,” they complained Oct. 22 to the city ethics hotline.
The deputy chiefs — Jeff Becker, Wade Gourley, Tom Jester and Brian Jennings — made the complaint days after an arbitration hearing over their grievance.
The city auditor last week began an investigation into their complaint at the request of Mayor David Holt and two city councilmen.
Citty could face disciplinary action “up to and including termination” if retaliation is confirmed.
The chief said he welcomes an investigation.
“There’s a lot I would like to say but I’m not going to,” Citty said Friday. “I want the investigation to take place. I’m ready to be interviewed and have some disposition made on it. I want that. But I’m not going to talk about it … through the media. That’s not the right place for it.”
Citty has been police chief 15 years and makes close to $190,000 a year. He will be 66 in February.
Leaders of the 1,050-member police union are calling for Citty to be suspended with pay while the investigation is ongoing.
“That’s the only fair thing to do,” said John George, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123. “As you go higher up the chain of command, we’ve been told, you’re supposed to be held to higher standards.
“Why he’s not suspended … I don’t know,” George said. “Because it would happen to any other officer out here. But it doesn’t surprise us.”
The bitterness surrounding the conflict puts into question how the police department can go forward if the chief stays in place. George said Friday “it’s kind of a cancer throughout.”
In a letter last week, the deputy chiefs told the mayor and the city council that Citty’s statements and conduct “have created a very strained and difficult workplace.”
“We believe the dysfunctional environment since this occurred … is detrimental and counterproductive to the mission of the police department,” they wrote.
Councilman Mark Stonecipher told The Oklahoman he hopes the result of the investigation “is we have a better department because of it.”
“I thank the deputies for sending that letter,” the Ward 8 councilman also said. “It’s something that’s serious to them, so it’s serious to me.”
The mayor said Friday “we definitely take the allegations seriously” and “we want to know the truth.” However, Holt pointed out that only the city manager could take any disciplinary action against the chief.
“It’s actually a criminal violation for the mayor and council to get involved in personnel decisions,” Holt said.
Any disciplinary decision could fall to the next city manager.
“I don’t plan on being here much after Tuesday,” City Manager Jim Couch said Friday. “I would doubt there’s going to be something that will hit my desk while I’m still here.”
Couch is retiring effective Jan. 2. The city council Monday is interviewing city manager candidates.
The deputy chiefs Friday declined to comment further.
They specifically alleged in their ethics complaint that the chief on March 5 confronted Becker, Gourley, Jester and then-Deputy Chief Johnny Kuhlman about the possibility of a grievance being filed.
They alleged the chief became upset, pointed at Becker and Gourley and said the city manager would retaliate against them. They quoted Citty as saying, “He will say he won’t but he will.”
Jester and Kuhlman at the time had already announced retirement plans.
“The deputy chiefs perceived this as a threat to intimidate or coerce us from going forward with our contract grievance, or career advancement would be jeopardized for … Becker and Gourley,” their complaint states. “The concern was any job retaliation from the city manager would have to go through Chief Citty first in order to get to us. We interpreted his remarks to mean he would not stop it.”
Citty met again with his deputy chiefs the next day and told them his comments about the city manager “were to not leave the room,” according to the complaint.
Couch declined Friday to address the references to him in the ethics complaint. “There’s an investigation going on so it’s really inappropriate for me to talk about it,” he said.
Kuhlman also declined Friday to comment. He became U.S. marshal for the Western District of Oklahoma in April and was replaced by Jennings.
The ethics complaint also specifically alleged Citty confronted his deputy chiefs Oct. 16 after the arbitration hearing. They complained he said “he would not pay for all hours worked even if the arbitrator ruled in our favor.”
Also seeking overtime pay through the March 20 grievance are 10 police majors. The arbitrator’s ruling is expected early next year.
The city manager denied the grievance in April, saying deputy chiefs and majors have been paid on a salary basis for more than 30 years. Couch told the police union the city was willing to negotiate changes “at the bargaining table.”
The police chief has been accused of retaliation before. In January, a federal jury agreed a veteran officer was retaliated against for reporting suspicions about a police captain to a federal prosecutor.
The jury awarded Lt. Phil A. Williams $210,000 in compensatory damages in his civil case against the police chief and the city. The police chief had told jurors, “I would never do anything like that.”
From The Oklahoman