Former police officers file lawsuit against city
Three former Platte Woods police officers who brought government wrongdoings they discovered in their workplace to the attention of authorities, filed a lawsuit Friday alleging their employment was terminated in retaliation for their reporting of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) violations and policy violations.
The suit was filed against the City of Platte Woods, mayor John Smedley and police chief Jim Kerns.
According to the 16-page lawsuit filed in Platte County Circuit Court, Thomas Noon and Christopher Skidmore had served about 35 years combined as police officers for the Platte Woods Police Department. During their tenure, Noon was promoted to deputy chief of police and Skidmore was promoted to sergeant and served as Lake Waukomis’s liaison when the department began handling calls for their police services.
In November of 2018, Skidmore’s wife, Candice Skidmore, joined the Platte Woods Police Department as a part-time reserve police officer, mainly performing administrative work.
According to the suit, Mrs. Skidmore expressed concern to police chief Jim Kerns that a patrol vehicle “did not have an operable driver’s side airbag,” which placed officers at risk of physical harm. The suit contends police chief Kerns failed to act on her complaint.
Concerns over airbags and many additional allegations of policy violations were shared in a written complaint with Mayor Smedley and the board of aldermen. The suit says Noon, Skidmore, Mrs. Skidmore and another officer attached the department’s policy manual with 180 highlighted policies “that the officers claimed had been or were being violated” along with the written complaint.
The lawsuit alleges “the requirement that Platte Woods employees operate vehicles with hazardous defects is serious misconduct that violates a clear mandate of public policy-a mandate of a safe and hazard-free workplace, as articulated in OSHA,” wrote attorney Michael Stipetich.
The lawsuit doesn’t provide the date Mrs. Skidmore raised her concern to the chief, but it does state that her job duties were “reassigned to another officer about seven days after the mayor and board of aldermen received the written complaint.
In December of 2019, the suit says, Skidmore was basically written off the schedule, because her hours fell to zero. At the time, there were 13 part-time reserve officers.
Over the course of the litigation process, more evidence would likely need to be obtained to show a causal connection between the whistle-blowing and her discharge.
The suit also contends Noon and Christopher Skidmore were constructively discharged in retaliation for disclosing policy violations in the written complaint. Both were “transitioned” to the police department’s reserve unit as part-time reserve officers on Jan. 1, the suit says.
“Neither of them was allowed to work,” wrote Stipetich.
But the proverbial discharge occurred on March 13, 2020, when Noon and Skidmore got a letter from the mayor and the chief of police, stating “We have decided to dissolve the reserve unit, effective March 13, 2020,” according to the lawsuit.
The officers’ status, the suit says, “as protected individuals was the motivating factor for their discharge, which constitutes retaliatory discharge due to whistleblowing.”
The lawsuit claims the officers are protected employees under whistle-blowing protections and states the officers first brought the safety concern to management’s attention before turning the information over to Mayor Smedley, as required under some whistle-blowing laws.
According to the whistle-blowers, Kerns “knowingly allowed a failed radar detector to operate, which resulted in numerous drivers receiving incorrect speeding tickets” and “required officers to wear body cameras with audio” that continued to recorded officers during restroom and lunch breaks. The written complaint also accuses Kerns of failing to maintain accurate recordkeeping and failing to supervise a drug take-back program, which created an opportunity for an officer to steal drugs from police custody.
The officers are seeking compensation for back pay, wages and benefits.