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Officer sues department, alleges retaliation after 'Blue Lives Matter' rally

The lawsuit alleges that supervisors urged Dan Sullivan to cancel the event and, after he held the rally, they punished him by creating a hostile work environment


By Kelsi Loos
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. — A city of Frederick police officer has sued the department, saying that his supervisors retaliated against him for holding a “Blue Lives Matter” rally in the city last year.

Dan Sullivan, a Frederick police officer since 2004 and a former Green Beret, held the rally July 24, 2016, in Memorial Park in support of officers who had recently been killed in Dallas and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Blue Lives Matter is a nationwide pro-law-enforcement movement created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which calls for accountability in police-involved shootings.

The $10 million lawsuit, filed July 7 in U.S. District Court, alleges that Sullivan's supervisors urged him to cancel the event and, after Sullivan held the rally anyway, they punished him by creating a hostile work environment. It names the city of Frederick, Frederick Police Department, Chief of Police Ed Hargis, Lt. Thomas Tokarz, and "John and Jane Doe" of the department as defendants.

Sullivan alleges that he experienced retaliation immediately after the event when he went on duty. He was assigned to work the makeup Fourth of July fireworks show at Baker Park, which took place just hours after the rally. He was placed without a vehicle at the busy West Patrick Street and U.S. 15 intersection, which Sullivan believed was punishment for proceeding with the rally.

According to the complaint, Tokarz told Sullivan the next day, “If you ever feel the need to exercise your First Amendment rights again, I hope you come to me your Lieutenant and ask my advice prior to doing so.”

Sullivan’s attorney, Daniel Cox, said the statement showed the department attempted to restrain Sullivan’s constitutional rights.

“It should really shock or surprise anyone who’s a United States citizen,” Cox said, adding later, “It matters for all of us. I think when you see the impact of government trying to, in any way, prevent free public speech and assembly, that should be concerning to all of us.”

Tokarz also told Sullivan that he was under internal investigation for posting medical information on Facebook about a member of the local social-justice group Frederick Rising who had identified Sullivan in a social media post as the planner of the Blue Lives Matter rally and accused the officer of murder. Sullivan fatally shot 46-year-old Bradley James Bailey once in the head after he pointed a semi-automatic handgun at officers on Oct. 6, 2008, according to previous reports. A grand jury found the shooting justified.

Sullivan defended himself online, explaining the circumstances of the shooting. He said the activist who accused him did not represent the Black Lives Matter movement and was mentally ill. Sullivan pointed out that the activist had shared publicly that he had bipolar disorder. The department's internal investigation sought to determine whether it was inappropriate for Sullivan to share that information.

The investigation found that the charges against Sullivan were unfounded, On Jan. 17, however, Hargis told Sullivan that he ordered a negative evaluation of the officer because the chief didn’t believe Sullivan should have been cleared of wrongdoing, according to the complaint.

Joe Palkovic, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Francis Scott Key Lodge 91, which represents city officers, said he could not comment on the lawsuit directly because he didn't know all of the facts. Generally speaking, however, he said that the lodge supports its members in cases where they have been wrongly disciplined, and supports officers exercising their First Amendment rights while off-duty and not representing the Frederick Police Department.

Sullivan was not in uniform or representing the police at the time of the rally, according to his attorney.

The lawsuit, which was first reported by The Daily Record, requests an award of $10 million for several counts including:

First Amendment retaliation as well as retaliation under state law.

Equal protection violations.

A civil conspiracy to deprive Sullivan of constitutional rights.

Creating a hostile work environment.

Violating the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights;

Libel and slander.

Public Information Act violations.

The suit seeks an additional award of up to $10 million for pain and suffering.

Neither City Attorney Saundra Nickols nor Hargis immediately returned calls for comment. Sullivan deferred to his attorney when contacted for an interview.

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©2017 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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