While Ardmore city officials continue to be less than forthcoming on multiple open records requests from The Ardmoreite concerning reported allegations that led to the June resignation of former police chief Keith Mann, city manager J.D. Spohn has confirmed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint and a tort claim have been filed against the city by two Ardmore Police Department corporals.
Should the two legal proceedings bear fruit, there could be a change in the police ranks, and the city could find itself writing checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The EEOC action was filed by Cpl. Barry Antwine. The allegation? Discrimination.
The city issued the following response to questions concerning Antwine's complaint:
"... At this stage of that proceeding, the charge is not deemed a public record either under the Freedom of Information Act (see Section 24A.13 of the Open Records Act regarding records from the federal government) or the Open Records Act. The city has forwarded the charge of discrimination to OMAG (Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group) for review and appropriate handling."
Unofficial sources have indicated Antwine is seeking a promotion to sergeant. The APD currently has 11 officers with the rank of sergeant — six are Caucasian males; five are minorities, including one woman. The city has not confirmed if Antwine's complaint alleges he has been denied the rank based on discrimination.
Regardless of what the discrimination complaint includes, Antwine had another avenue which he could have used instead of seeking EEOC action. He could have asked the local Fraternal Order of Police to support him through the grievance process provided by membership. Antwine has declined The Ardmoreite's request for an interview. But Sgt. Phil Shepard, local FOP President, said Antwine did not ask the group to support a grievance.
Friday, Antwine's attorney, Douglas D. Vernier, Oklahoma City, said the complaint was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Oklahoma at Muskogee as a means of seeking an EEOC investigation.
"We don't have much of a statement except that we are allowing the process to work. We are pursuing an EEOC investigation," Vernier said.
The metro attorney said filing the complaint was the required first step in seeking an investigation. Vernier confirmed the probe is not yet complete and, so far, EEOC has not issued a ruling on the validity of his client's claim.
Vernier is also representing Cpl. John Randolph in his tort claim action against top police brass and the city manager. Randolph is seeking $400,000, claiming he has suffered "intentional infliction of emotional distress ... physical stress ... tortious interference with contract violation ... retaliatory suspension ....deprivation of due process ...deceit." But, Mann and Capt. Eric Hamblin, Mann's former deputy chief, are not the only ones named in the action. In various parts of the complaint, Randolph also names Spohn, Capt. Kevin Norris, Sgt. Brice Woolly, Sgt. Claude Henry and Sgt. Ryan Hunnicutt.
Randolph's action includes allegations that he was:
— Penalized for not wearing his protective (bullet proof) vest, even though he had a doctor's note stating he has a "back condition"
— Disciplined for using spray paint to cover alleged "rusty spots" on his patrol car
— Disciplined for not wearing his seat belt while driving his patrol car
— Forced to submit to an internal affairs investigation
In fact, the city has confirmed Randolph has previously filed a number of grievances which are repeated in his current 50-point tort claim.
In a written reply requesting information about the tort claim, Spohn said, "... the city has received, and has processed, various grievances filed on behalf of John Randolph. One grievance was resolved in favor of the city, upholding a five-day suspension without pay. Under the Open Records Act, a final act of discipline involving a suspension without pay is an open record ... One grievance was resolved in favor of Mr. Randolph on the basis of a finding by the arbitrator of a procedural flaw in the disciplinary process. Consequently, the underlying merits of the grievance were not adjudicated. Hearings have been held on two other grievances, but no awards have been issued. One grievance was settled without the imposition of a final act of discipline subject of mandatory disclosure under the Act. The final grievance has not yet been heard by an arbitrator."
The city is currently within the 90 days it legally has to reply to both the EEOC investigation and the tort claim. Actions regarding both cases should appear on upcoming City Commission agendas.