GLASGOW – A second lawsuit by a former Glasgow police chief has been dismissed in a summary judgment.
Guy Turcotte, now an officer with the Glasgow Police Department, filed the complaint in Barren Circuit Court on Oct. 10, 2018, alleging he was demoted in violation of multiple state laws. He named then-Mayor Dick Doty, then-GPD Chief Guy Howie, the City of Glasgow and the police department as defendants.
“[He] argues that he was entitled to notice and a formal hearing before Defendants could take employment-related action against him,” Circuit Judge John T. Alexander wrote in his order of just more than 15 pages that was filed Friday. “Further, [Turcotte] asserts that Defendants' actions violated the right to engage in free speech on a matter of public concern as secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
Turcotte resigned as chief as Rhonda Riherd Trautman was leaving her term as mayor at the end of 2014, and she immediately dubbed him a lieutenant colonel. Turcotte had been hired during her administration. When Doty became mayor, he made James Duff, who had been a lieutenant colonel, the interim chief. Turcotte's rank and salary stayed the same, but his duties were those of an officer. A few months into that scenario is when he filed the first lawsuit. It also was later dismissed via a summary judgment, and he appealed the decision but lost that effort.
In the meantime, Howie had been hired as chief later in 2015, but he did not change anything about the Turcotte status at that time. After all appellate attempts had been exhausted for that first lawsuit, though, Turcotte's rank was officially changed to officer as part of a restructuring of certain departmental ranks that had, in effect, already taken place for others, but his rank had remained in place while the litigation continued. His salary was also cut at that time. He then sued for the second time.
The defendants' attorney, Matt Cook, filed a motion in mid-October for the judge to issue a summary judgment, and responses and replies were subsequently filed.
Alexander's order notes the current case involves a municipal order replacing the GPD Standard Operating Procedures manual.
“Among the changes was a new organizational structure for the GPD which eliminated lieutenant colonel positions altogether,” Alexander's order states, noting the city delayed changing Turcotte's rank and pay because of the action that was pending at the time, and once the first case was resolved, that moved forward. “Chief Howie provided Plaintiff with a memorandum on October 8, 2018, explaining the change …. On October 9, 2018, Chief Howie met with Plaintiff and presented him with a personnel status form to reflect the changes. Plaintiff refused to sign the form and subsequently initiated this action on October 10, 2018.”
Howie retired earlier this year.
Alexander's order says that, as noted by the defendants, Turcotte was given a job by the outgoing mayor that was not in existence at the time, and that issue was addressed in the previous lawsuit.
“When Plaintiff voluntarily accepted a position with no inherent job duties, he was a assigned a patrolman's duties. The assignment of job duties by the new police chief was not, as previously determined by the Court of Appeals, a disciplinary matter,” Alexander states in addressing one of the claims related to the alleged violation of a state law concerning discipline of officers.
Turcotte maintains that he has a claim under that statute because his pay was reduced after the prior litigation ended and argues that because he was the only officer to be reassigned in the reorganization, he was the subject of discrimination, but the judge says no evidence has been produced that the change in SOP was a disciplinary measure or of discrimination.
The motion for summary judgment was granted under that section as well as similarly under another complaint section dealing with another portion of state law related to officer discipline.
Another claim was that the Kentucky Whistleblower Act was violated in the course of his status change, but the judge writes that he cannot establish all the elements necessary for a claim to be allowed under that law.
Alexander observes that for there to be a First Amendment protection, the speech must be on matters of public concern, and Turcotte was contending that his first lawsuit was that and the city was retaliating against him for it. The judge states that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that statements by public officials on matters of public concern must be accorded First Amendment protection even when the statements are directed at one's nominal superiors, but the court did not “grant blanket protection to all employee criticism” and it has recognized that when a citizen enters government service, “the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom.”
The judge states that Turcotte has not produced any additional information in support of the free speech claim, and even “if … this action could rationally be considered relevant to speech at all, he has acknowledged that it concerns speech regarding a 'matter only of personal interest.'”
Turcotte's final claim was that there was a violation of the Kentucky Civil Service Act, but the defendants pointed out the city never adopted the civil service system for its employees, and Turcotte, through his attorney, Matthew Baker, had not proven otherwise.
“The Motion for Summary Judgment having been granted in its entirety, this action is dismissed,” Alexander concluded.
“We're obviously very pleased,” Cook said via phone Friday. “The judge made the right call and hopefully this will bring some peace to the situation. “Of course they have the right to appeal …., but for the moment, we're very happy about it.”
He said he'd talked with the city attorney and Howie and sent a message to Doty but hadn't heard back yet.
A call to Baker on Friday afternoon had not been returned as of publication time.