By John Diedrich and Gina Barton
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE — The recently reassigned head of the Milwaukee FBI is under investigation for trying to improperly influence a subordinate's testimony in a lawsuit by an Army veteran denied a job as an agent because he is disabled.
Teresa Carlson was quietly reassigned in the last month from her post as special agent in charge of the Milwaukee office to FBI headquarters, shortly after she refused to testify in a federal courtroom in Virginia.
Carlson is under potential criminal investigation by the Office of Inspector General after she told agent Mark Crider in April that it would be in his best interest "to come down on the side of the government in this matter," according to court records in the case. Crider had been called to testify in a lawsuit brought by Justin Slaby, an Army veteran and Oak Creek native, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and was preparing to deploy again when his left hand was blown off in a training accident in Georgia.
Crider, an FBI firearms instructor, had determined Slaby was qualified to be an agent because he could shoot with his dominant right hand. But FBI trainers at Quantico, Va., saw it differently and kicked him out of the academy.
When Carlson learned Crider was going to testify for Slaby, she called Crider into her office.
"She then went into a protracted dialogue about why Slaby should never be an agent since he was handicapped," Crider noted in a statement he typed immediately after the meeting.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis on Thursday took the unusual step of sanctioning the government for the conduct of Carlson and other FBI officials in the case.
Davis wrote that it would be up to the jury to determine if Carlson attempted to get Crider to commit perjury, but he said there is no dispute that she met with Crider about his testimony. "The court does conclude that, under the circumstances, SAC Carlson's conduct was wholly inappropriate," Davis wrote. "The Court also concludes that SAC Carlson's conduct could have resulted in erosion in the integrity of the judicial process."
As a punishment, the judge ordered that a joint statement from attorneys for the FBI and Slaby be given to the jury during the trial, which is set to begin July 29 in Alexandria. It says Carlson tried to sway Crider's testimony. The judge also ordered the FBI to pay some of Slaby's attorney fees.
Carlson, her attorney and a spokesman for the FBI office in Milwaukee did not return calls for comment late Thursday.
On June 12, Carlson appeared in court in Virginia but refused to testify. She said she had just been told she was under investigation and needed to talk to an attorney.
"I feel very uncomfortable giving sworn testimony today," she said, according to a transcript.
Davis said the FBI was investigating Carlson based "on the allegation that she intimidated, threatened, or corrupted, persuaded another person or attempted to do so" with the intent of influencing testimony.
Slaby, who works as support staff on the FBI's elite hostage rescue team, still wants to be a special agent. He also is suing the FBI for damages.
Slaby, 30, who is married with three children, lives in Virginia. The FBI has prohibited him from speaking to the media, according to his attorney, Kathy Butler.
"It's a very important civil rights case," Butler said. "The thing we should hold dear is when people go off and sacrifice for their country, they deserve a fair shake when they come back. That is an obligation we as American citizens owe."
Pursuing dream of FBI In summer 2004, Slaby was a specialist serving in the elite Ranger Regiment after three overseas tours. During training, a defective stun grenade blew up in his left hand. His hand had to be amputated, and he left the Army the following year. Slaby had always dreamed of becoming an FBI agent. He met with an applicant coordinator after he left the military. The coordinator told Slaby he would need a college degree and work experience to get into the FBI.
"Slaby directly asked the man if his hand was going to be an issue," the lawsuit says. "The response? If you can pass the fitness-for-duty exam and the background check, your injury won't be a problem."
By June 2009, Slaby had graduated from college and was offered a job with the FBI, contingent on his ability to do the job using his prosthesis.
Crider and another agent in Milwaukee, as well as a physical therapist, concluded he could. In his deposition, Crider said special agents do not need to shoot with their non-dominant hand. Slaby is right-handed and passed firearms testing with that hand. FBI agents are required to fire five rounds with their non-dominant hand, but the shots do not have to be accurate. Slaby learned to fire those rounds with his prosthesis. Slaby was "sponsored" to be special agent by his home office, in this case Milwaukee, which is common practice in the bureau, according to his attorney.
Slaby's problems began after he reported to the FBI training academy in Quantico.
"The FBI instructors.responded to his presence with incredible hostility and abject disrespect," the suit says.
"What's next?" one of them asked. "Guys in wheelchairs?"
"The FBI informed him that he was being dropped as a Special Agent because of his disability, a damaged left hand that does not interfere in his ability to perform essential functions of the job," the suit says.
Agent felt threatened Shortly after his 2011 dismissal from the academy, Slaby had lunch with Crider, who happened to be at Quantico for training of his own. Someone from the FBI was watching the lunch and reported back to the Milwaukee office that Crider was secretly "training" Slaby, according to testimony. Crider was confronted by a supervisor when he returned to Milwaukee. Slaby filed his suit in July 2012.
Nine months later, Crider learned he was being called by Slaby's attorneys to testify. He spoke to an attorney at FBI headquarters who assured Crider there would be no repercussions as long as his testimony was truthful.
When Crider told Carlson he would be out of the office for a couple of days, she took him into her office.
Carlson said Slaby was ruining his reputation by pursuing the lawsuit and he should be happy to have a job with the FBI. She also said headquarters was not happy that the Milwaukee office had put Slaby's application forward.
"She then told me my testimony should support the FBI's position that he should not be an agent and that it would be in my best interest to come down on the side of the FBI," Crider wrote after the meeting. "I took this as a threat to make sure that I took the position that Slaby should not be an agent."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright, 2013, Journal Sentinel