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Former Auburn officer alleges racial discrimination played role in firing

POSTED: August 10, 2014 1:00 p.m.
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Lawrence Wade

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A former Auburn police officer is alleging racial discrimination played a role in his firing.

Former Sgt. Lawrence Wade says he was not given a fair chance to fight sexual harassment allegations when he was terminated from the Auburn Police Department in 2012. His attorney asked city officials last week why then-Police Chief Paul Nadeau was able to keep his position despite a settlement being reached against Nadeau following a sexual harassment complaint.

Attorney Warren Sams said he believes it’s unfair that Wade, who is African-American, was fired because of the allegations and for actions unbecoming of an officer.

"The only difference is race and it’s inexcusable, and the city has been running from this for two years," Sams said following Thursday’s city council meeting.

City officials did not respond to Sams' and Wade’s comments at last week’s meeting, but did say that Wade was on the agenda to speak at the Aug. 21 council workshop.

Wade was fired in May 2012 after the sexual harassment complaint was made against him by another employee. Sams said Wade was fired without being allowed to take a polygraph exam or have one of the witnesses he named to be interviewed.

An Auburn employee, who wished to remain anonymous, says Wade was fired in part because he initially said he was unaware of what would have led to any allegations despite there being video of the woman sitting in his lap while they were at work.

Sams said that video shows the employee willfully sitting on Wade’s lap, which would not make sense if Wade was harassing her. He said a complaint by Wade has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but they’ve been told more time is needed to investigate.

Sams said Wade did not lie about what happened. Wade at that time denied having harassed her and said he could not recall the behavior she alleged that he committed, Sams added.

According to the source, the sexual harassment claim against Nadeau, who resigned in January, was made by former officer Katria Johnson. Johnson resigned in 2011 in lieu of termination. The source says Johnson was given a card from some APD employees congratulating her on her breast enhancements. Johnson enjoyed talking about her breasts, but once she was forced to resign then she was able to use the card as leverage and claim sexual harassment, the source said.

By early 2012, an investigation was wrapped up by a state ethics agency about a picture posted on Facebook allegedly focusing on Johnson’s surgically-enhanced breasts. The picture violated APD policy since she was wearing a shirt with the words 'Auburn Police Department' across it.

Shortly after Wade’s firing, Sams’ sent a letter to Nadeau and Mayor Linda Blechinger asking for them to review the process that led to Wade’s termination. The letter states that the personnel manual doesn’t give what procedure would be used in an appeal.

"Although Sgt. Wade has spoken with Chief Nadeau about the investigation, there has been no opportunity granted to Sgt. Wade for him to request an internal department review of the decision prior to issuing an appeal," Sams wrote.

Sams’ letter also alleges that Wade was treated differently than his accuser, and that the city did not take into account that Wade had reprimanded her for not being at her desk at certain times.

Sams also questions why when he submitted an open records request that some files were not in Nadeau’s personnel record, including a failed polygraph test from 2008.

According to state law, certain records can be removed from personnel files after a seven year period.

In a June 6 letter, Auburn attorney Jack Wilson said he did not believe that documents were "removed" from Nadeau’s file. He wrote that some former employees kept investigative documents separate from employee personnel files.

"It is also my understanding that Mr. Nadeau disputed both the procedure used and validity of the examination, and that dispute may have formed the basis for the actions of the former employees," Wilson wrote.

 

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