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Officer Sues Penn. Police Chief With Litany of Allegations

The Express Times

BELVIDERE, Penn. -- Town Police Chief David Gulick is a defendant in a lawsuit filed Monday by one of his own officers.

The lawsuit brought by patrolman Frank H. Tootle III, of Oxford Township, outlines a litany of allegations ranging from civil rights violations to assertions the chief's policies endanger public safety and the safety of town police officers.

Gulick declined comment on the lawsuit.

Tootle alleges it's difficult for department members to contact the chief and that Gulick will not assist officers when they respond to incidents because the chief has "made it clear" his job is limited to supervisory duties.

Tootle alleges that poses a safety threat within a small police department. Including the chief, the department has six officers.

Tootle alleges he had to leave the scene of an incident because the police chief demanded Tootle give him a ride.

The patrolman said the chief often requested rides to and from work. Tootle eventually told the chief he would not continue giving him rides because it took him away from his official duties, according to the lawsuit.

The patrolman alleges Gulick failed to do anything when an officer smelling of alcohol reported to work at 7 a.m. March 22, 2003. The unnamed officer admitted drinking alcoholic beverages the night before, Tootle asserts.

The patrolman also alleges then-Mayor Ainsworth Scott reacted angrily when learning Tootle issued traffic summonses last year to a Goodwill Fire Company No. 1 member after the firefighter ran a stop sign and a breath test showed he had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.09 percent.

The alcohol reading was below the state's then 0.10 percent limit.

The suit asserts Scott came to police headquarters to find out if Tootle had charged the firefighter.

"The mayor gave (Tootle) a disgusted look, raised both his hands, turned to leave and slammed the door on the way out," the suit alleges.

Scott is not named as a defendant in the suit.

Contacted Monday, Scott said it's not possible to slam the doors at police headquarters because they are equipped with hydraulic door closers.

Tootle alleges he is the victim of retaliation by the chief.

The patrolman alleges Gulick has kept him on the midnight shift since May 2002, and officers with less time on the job have never worked the overnight shift. Tootle has worked with the Belvidere Police Department since June 1, 2001.

Tootle alleges he's been the victim of unfounded internal affairs investigations, and the chief referred an unfounded citizen's complaint to the Warren County Prosecutor's Office.

The prosecutor's office found no wrongful conduct, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also alleges Tootle is barred from speaking with members of town council about any matter related to the police department.

When the chief learned members of the department spoke to council President Robert Claussen, who also serves as police commissioner, Gulick placed written reprimands in the files of some department members, according to the lawsuit.

A chain-of-command directive was issued by Gulick last year, according to the suit.

"No officer is to discuss any complaints or department business directly or indirectly with the mayor or any councilman without the chief of police having been notified in advance," the directive reads as cited in the lawsuit.

Department regulations issued by the police chief this year forbid criticizing the official action of a superior officer, instituting a civil action arising from police duty without notifying the chief of police and releasing unauthorized statements to the media, according to the lawsuit.

The suit filed on Tootle's behalf by Washington attorney John F. McDonnell alleges the regulations and chain-of-command directive "chill and interfere with" rights protected under the federal and state constitutions.

The suit also alleges Tootle was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, commonly known as the whistle-blower's act.

Town Mayor Charles J. Liegel Sr. and Claussen declined comment.

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