‘He Won’: Cincinnati To Pay Police Captain $70K To End Federal Lawsuit

CINCINNATI, OH — A Cincinnati police captain has “won” his federal lawsuit against the city, its mayor, police chief and former city manager, his lawyer says Friday. The suit included allegations of police overtime abuse that prompted the department to change its policy:

Jeff Butler accepted the city’s $70,000 offer of judgment in addition to paying his “reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred as of the date of this offer, September 4, 2020, to be established by the Court,” Butler’s attorney, Randy Freking, wrote in a court document filed Thursday.

In exchange, all claims in his lawsuit will be dismissed, according to other court records from City Solicitor Andrew Garth.

“This offer of judgment is not an admission of liability by the City of Cincinnati or by the individual defendants. This offer of judgment is made to resolve this dispute amicably and without further litigation and associated costs,” Garth wrote.

But Butler’s lawyer says “he won” and the city has admitted to wrongdoing.

“He won. They confessed judgment, which basically means they admitted wrongdoing and paid him for his financial losses and all his legal fees and costs. We are happy they confessed,” Freking said. “They avoided a public trial which would have exposed malfeasance in the 911 funding and the overtime audit. Jeff has retired and is ready for his next job.

Freking says neither the city nor a federal judge has to approve a confession of judgment: “They can write ‘this is not an admission’ but it is a federal court judgment against the city.”

The development comes three months after U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett ruled Butler’s lawsuit could proceed. The judge allowed about half of the 12 claims from Butler to go to trial.

The other claims were dismissed.

The judge is expected to place the official judgment on the record next week.

FOX19 requested for comment from city officials, the mayor and Butler’s lawyer.

Butler sued in September 2017, saying he was retaliated against after he raised questions about how the city spent its 911 fees and grant dollars while he was overseeing the Emergency Communications Center from Jan. 3, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2017.

That’s when he says he was moved and stripped of his managerial duties with virtually no notice.

Then, Butler’s suit says, the mayor led “a concerted public campaign to demonize Captain Butler as a racist, a bad cop, and someone whose lawsuit was designed to undermine the contractual relationship between the City of Cincinnati and minority-owned business enterprises.”

Butler’s lawsuit contends Black and Cranley “instructed” prominent African-Americans contact media and make statements to damage Butler’s image and “arranged to have materials delivered” to media to “establish that Captain Butler was a racist and a bad cop.”

The judge dismissed a defamation claim against Black but not Butler’s claims of defamation against both Cranley and Black.

Butler’s claim of free speech violations also can proceed, the judge wrote: “Plaintiff alleges plausible First Amendment retaliation violations.”

The judge also has allowed claims to proceed of retaliation, conspiracy of retaliation and spoliation of evidence against the city, former and current city and police officials.

The spoliation of evidence claim is related to a box of police overtime audit records that vanished within the department in 2018, court records show.

Butler twice requested an outside criminal and/or administrative investigation into the whereabouts of a box, but the police department did an internal investigation.

Police officials say the box of audit records was discovered unaccounted for within CPD sometime between March and mid-June 2018 – just as the city’s annual state audit began.

The state audit scrutinized police overtime at the request of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters due to Butler’s allegations of “illegal abuse.”

Butler amended his lawsuit 2018 and alleged “illegal abuse” by officers scamming the system for more pay while Police Chief Eliot Isaac turned a blind eye, court records show.

The state audit of the city of Cincinnati did not produce any criminal findings, Deters said, but state auditors did conclude there was a “systematic” overtime problem in the police and fire departments and in public works.

Meanwhile, overtime in the police department fell a stunning 47 percent in 2018 once the audit began, indicating something was off, State Auditor Keith Faber told FOX19 last year.

State auditors recommended changes and improvements in how overtime wages and compensatory time is handled, changes the police department already had incorporated by the time the audit was released.

After Cincinnati police internal investigators concluded their investigation into the whereabouts of the box of missing audit records, Butler received a written reprimand for “Failure of Good Behavior” in July 2019.

Butler’s reprimand was related to remarks Butler made about the chief, implicating him, during the internal investigation, according to police records.

The reprimand was tossed out by the panel of his peers, however, who determined “the investigation posed several conflicts of interest,” police records show.

The peer review panel questioned the integrity of the probe. They ultimately found it to be “not fair or objective.”

Butler then sued in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to try to have the entire internal investigation and the administrative charge levied against him dismissed.

He also requested a restraining order to prevent city and police officials from placing him on the Brady List.

The list, kept by prosecutors’ offices, can include information related to officers’ truthfulness and misconduct. Defense and other attorneys can use this to impeach their credibility in court.

Judge Robert Ruehlman dismissed Butler’s county lawsuit and ordered him to pay costs related to the litigation, court records show.

Ruehlman agreed with city attorneys that Butler was required under the union contact to handle grievances through a process outlined in that document and the court lacks jurisdiction.

The police union filed a grievance that put the issue before an arbitrator.

In the meantime, Butler was placed on the Brady list for Hamilton County. He is 118th on the list for “Intentionally Report Inaccuracies or Omissions,” a copy of it shows.

Earlier this year, he also lost the arbitration.

From The Cincinnati Enquirer

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