Judge tosses Frederick officer's lawsuit that claimed retaliation by department

2018-01-10 | Foster's Daily Democrat

Jan. 10--A federal judge has dismissed a $10 million lawsuit that was brought by a Frederick police officer who felt retaliated against after hosting a "Blue Lives Matter" rally in 2016.

Officer Daniel Sullivan alleged the department retaliated against him after he organized the public demonstration while off duty.

Chief Judge James K. Bredar, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, granted a motion to dismiss the case Tuesday.

"Plaintiff has failed to state any claim upon which relief can be granted in either his original or amended complaint, therefore his complaint will be dismissed in its entirety," Bredar wrote.

The judge decided there was no need for a hearing.

"The nature of this 'pressure,' or what any of the 'extreme measures' were, is unclear from Plaintiff's complaint," Bredar wrote. "Even if the Court draws all inferences in the Plaintiff's favor, the undisputed facts are this: Plaintiff is still a member of the FPD, he was investigated by the FPD and cleared of any wrongdoing, his pay has not been reduced, and he has not been demoted."

Sullivan was deeply saddened by the court's decision, but said he plans to continue seeking restitution.

"Our intent 100 percent is to proceed," Sullivan said. "We're going to proceed forward and we're not going to give up the fight. The First Amendment is near to my heart. It's unfortunate this decision was what it was, but we're going to move forward."

Sullivan has been a Frederick police officer since 2004 and is still employed by the law enforcement agency. Sullivan organized the 2016 rally to support the national "Blue Lives Matter" movement.

Blue Lives Matter is a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which calls for accountability for police officers who shoot and kill black people.

Sullivan's lawsuit alleged his supervisors at the Frederick Police Department tried to pressure him into canceling the event. Sullivan asserted that Chief Ed Hargis and Capt. Patrick Grossman "took extreme measures to pressure Officer Sullivan by strongly 'encouraging' him to cancel the said Blue Lives Matters public free speech event," according to the original complaint.

Sullivan went on duty after the rally to work a Fourth of July celebration at Baker Park, which had been rescheduled for July 24 due to rain. Sullivan was assigned to work the busy intersection of West Patrick Street and U.S. 15 without a patrol car, which he believed was punishment for holding the rally, according to previous reports.

Sullivan was also engaging in social media exchanges with Frederick residents who opposed the Blue Lives Matter rally, according to court documents.

Sullivan's lawsuit alleged he was later reprimanded by his commanding officers at the department.

The department notified Sullivan in September 2016 of an investigation into his social media posting. He was told in January 2017 that the investigation was closed, according to court documents.

Sullivan filed the suit in July. The defendants were the city of Frederick, the Frederick Police Department, the chief and two superior officers, and two unnamed police department employees, who he alleged had violated his freedom of speech rights and created a hostile work environment. The suit made eight claims including defamation, retaliation and discrimination and sought $10 million in damages.

Attorneys for the defendants responded in November with a motion to dismiss. They argued that Sullivan was not prevented from holding the rally, and his not having a patrol car on assignment did not legally constitute an adverse employment situation.

Follow Cameron Dodd on Twitter: @CameronFNP.