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East Liverpool asks federal court to hide allegations about officer misconduct; whistleblowing officer fights back

Monday, May 22, 2023

Response blasts city for failing to disclose law requiring that court records remain open except under rare circumstances and for asking federal court to be its public-relations manager: "Federal courts are not municipal press secretaries."

East Liverpool asks federal court to hide allegations about officer misconduct; whistleblowing officer fights back
Former Officer Christopher Green with K-9 Officer Nero

East Liverpool, OH – Today, former East Liverpool, Ohio police officer Christopher Green, who blew the whistle to the FBI alleging criminal misconduct in that city’s police department, fought back against the City’s effort to hide from public view his First Amendment–retaliation lawsuit’s allegations about police corruption and misconduct.

On May 8, 2023, the city filed a motion asking the federal court to strike from Green’s March 8, 2023 amended civil-rights complaintand seal from public view—certain allegations of police misconduct. Specifically, the city sought to hide these allegations in the amended complaint:

  • “[Defendant Captain Chad] Tatgenhorst’s illicit behavior went beyond just being paid for work he didn’t do, but resulted in a myriad of constitutional violations for improper searches and seizures, false arrest, and faulty prosecutions. His failure to attend the required K-9 training could result in his K-9 being de-certified and jeopardize all his prior searches, arrests, and prosecutions. If criminal-defense counsel came to know of this for their clients where Tatgenhorst’s K-9 sniffs led to arrest and conviction, the floodgates would open for reversals of criminal convictions and ensuing civil lawsuits.” Am. Compl., Doc. 3, PageID#88 at ¶ 45.
  • “Additionally, the promise of immunity in exchange for their testimony is Giglio (impeachment) material against each of these captains. Law enforcement is required to turn over Giglio material to every criminal defendant in every case investigated by these captains. But Defendant Captain Flati and the prosecutors never turned over this Giglio material to the Allen brothers during their trial—calling into question their convictions.” Id. at PageID#117 at ¶ 252. (Further details about this incident are contained in the Amended Complaint. Giglio material is information that could be used in a criminal trial to impeach the credibility of witnesses, including police officers.)
  • “Based on information and belief, in or around March 2022, Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst physically abused his wife. His wife went to ELPD the following day and made a complaint. In addition to the abuse allegation, his wife informed the police that Tatgenhorst had taken her cellphone, which contained evidence of the crimes.” Id. at PageID#118 at ¶ 256.
  • “Based on information and belief, later that day, Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst went to his wife’s apartment, which is located above the FOP lodge. Tatgenhorst kicked in the door and threatened his wife with a gun. She was able to escape and found an off-duty police officer, who took her to the police station.” Id. at ¶ 257.
  • “Based on information and belief, when the police responded to the FOP lodge, they found Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst with the gun drinking beer. Tatgenhorst turned off the officers’ body cameras.” Id. at ¶ 258.
  • “At that time, Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst was not disciplined for this incident by East Liverpool.” Id. at ¶ 259.
  • Later, Tatgenhorst was indicted, arrested, and is now being prosecuted for this incident. Id. at PageID#119 at ¶ 263. Already on paid administrative leave (for another incident described below), Tatgenhorst faced no further employment discipline for being indicted, arrested, and facing prosecution (much less the underlying misconduct), other being permitted to remain on paid administrative leave. Id.
  • “In the summer of 2022, Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst continued to threaten his wife. An arrest warrant was issued for his arrest in Hancock County—not East Liverpool. Tatgenhorst was arrested and charged with a crime.” (Id. at PageID#119 at ¶ 260.)
  • Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst was placed on paid administrative leave but continues to be employed by ELPD. Id. at ¶ 261.
  • These charges were dismissed in November 2022, and the ELPD took no further action against Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst. Id. at ¶ 262.

In the brief opposing the City’s efforts to seal these allegations from public scrutiny, Green’s counsel said,

Far from being “unnecessary, unrelated, and scandalous” (id. at PageID#237), the challenged paragraphs provide necessary and relevant details to support the claims…. If those details are ‘scandalous,’ it’s because of the nature of Defendants’ own conduct…. [T]he allegations about persistent, lawless conduct by City officials include details about the information Green reported to the FBI (which resulted in Green’s termination) and about City officials’ disparate treatment of Green versus other police officers…. [A]ll of this is relevant to his specific legal claims.

Green’s brief urged the federal court to reject the City’s efforts to assist it in a cover up:

This Court should reject the City’s unabashed invitation to become a political and public-relations actor “to protect the integrity of [the city’s police department,” and to fret about irrelevant considerations like the so-called “national and societal backdrop within which former City police officer Christopher Green filed this lawsuit” or “compromis[ing] public confidence in the City’s police department and the court systems serving Columbiana County.” Def.’s Mot., Doc. 23, PageID#237. Federal courts are not municipal press secretaries. If anyone is responsible for compromising public confidence, it’s the City and its employees who engaged in and tolerated the shenanigans detailed in the Amended Complaint. Federal courts do not serve to protect Defendants from allegations—only to adjudicate them.

(Emphasis added.)

As the brief argues, federal law provides that plaintiffs are “the masters” of their complaints. “Motions to strike are disfavored and granted only where the challenged allegations have no possible relation or logical connection to the controversy and may cause significant prejudice. The challenged paragraphs are about misconduct Green reported to the FBI and prove the retaliatory motive behind his firing by showing how Green was treated differently than others,” including Tatgenhorst.

As the brief summarizes, the Amended Complaint alleges that in January 2021, after witnessing serial acts of misconduct by his fellow East Liverpool police officers, learning of other misconduct, and reporting these acts to his supervisors—only to see no corrective action—Green reported wrongdoing to the FBI, including the alleged incidents below:

  • “Officers John Headley and Tatgenhorst’s scheme to overbill for time worked as school resource officers, resulting in thefts.”
  • “Captain Tatgenhorst’s scheme to report attendance at K-9 training and being paid for such training that he did not attend, resulting in theft, false reporting, and unconstitutional searches, seizures, arrests, and prosecutions.”
  • “Captain Tatgenhorst’s false accusation that Green conducted an improper stop, the propriety of which was already confirmed by Captains Wright and Headley.”
  • “Captain Tatgenhorst’s interference and obstruction into the drug investigation of Jacob Boyle, Jordan Fields (Tatgenhorst’s nephew), and Fields’s wife.”
  • “Captain Tatgenhorst’s complaint against Green concerning Nero’s bite during an arrest.”
  • “Captain Headley and Officer Ramsey’s use of excessive force against a handcuffed, detained, and non-threatening individual.”
  • “Captain Tatgenhorst’s interference in the drug investigation of Juan Carlos Sprott (Tatgenhorst’s daughter’s boyfriend/fiancé).”

Am. Compl., Doc. 3, PageID#82–83; 94–95 (emphasis added).

Following Green’s reporting of the misconduct to the FBI, the Amended Complaint further alleges, Defendants immediately engaged in a campaign of intimidation and First Amendment retaliation against him—ultimately causing his June 24, 2021 termination.

Following his firing, the Amended Complaint alleges, Defendants—including Captain Chad Tatgenhorst—continued to engage in a campaign of intimidation and First Amendment retaliation against Green. For example, as for Tatgenhorst, it is alleged that

  • “Months after Green’s termination, in or around November 2021, Defendant Captain Tatgenhorst sent several threatening, intimidating, menacing, coercive, and obscene text messages to Green with the intent to abuse, threaten, and harass Green. Tatgenhorst sent the messages at approximately 12:45 AM.”
  • “One text message displayed an emoji symbolizing a vagina—meant to slur Green as a ‘pussy.’ Another text message stated ‘ABC,’ which is law-enforcement lingo meaning ‘Always Be Careful’ because there is danger coming. An ensuing text stated, ‘good luck.’”

Am. Compl., Doc. 3, PageID#118. Even though Green informed Chief Lane about the texts, Defendant Tatgenhorst wasn’t disciplined for his misbehavior. Id. The Amended Complaint and brief further allege that Defendant Tatgenhorst even continued to engage in further criminal acts, like incidents

(1) in which Tatgenhorst turned off the body cameras of officers investigating his physical abuse of wife and
(2) involving Tatgenhorst threatening his wife.

Am. Compl., Doc. 3, PageID#118–19. Tatgenhorst is presently under indictment for the body-camera incident. Id. Although the charges were later dismissed, Tatgenhorst was arrested and charged for the threat incident. Id. Aside from being placed on paid administrative leave, Defendants took no further discipline against Tatgenhorst and he remains entrusted with the job of East Liverpool Police Department captain. Id. Yet they ejected Officer Green from the department.

Green’s Amended Complaint makes these claims:

  • Claim 1: First Amendment retaliation (against Defendants City of East Liverpool, Mayor Greg Bricker, Safety Service Director David Dawson, Captain Fred Flati, Captain Darin Morgan, Captain Chad Tatgenhorst, and Officer Robert Ramsey). Am. Compl, Doc. 3, PageID#119–25.
  • Claims 2–5: Intimidation using a false or fraudulent writing (against Defendants Officer Robert Ramsey, Captain Fred Flati, Captain Darin Morgan, and Safety Service Director David Dawson, respectively). Id. at PageID#126–31.
  • Claims 6–11: Intimidation against attorney, victim, or witness in a criminal case (against Defendants Officer Robert Ramsey, Captain Fred Flati, Captain Darin Morgan, Captain Chad Tatgenhorst, Safety Service Director David Dawson, and Mayor Greg Bricker, respectively). Id. at PageID#131–36.
  • Claims 12–16: Tampering with records (against Defendants Officer Robert Ramsey, Captain Fred Flati, Captain Darin Morgan, Safety Service Director David Dawson, and Mayor Greg Bricker, respectively). Id. at PageID#136–41.
  • Claims 17–20: Tampering with evidence (against Defendants Officer Robert Ramsey, Captain Fred Flati, Captain Darin Morgan, and Safety Service Director David Dawson, respectively). Id. at PageID#142–45.
  • Claim 21: Telecommunications harassment (against Defendant Captain Chad Tatgenhorst). Id. at PageID#145–47.
  • Claims 22–26: Interfering with Civil Rights (against Defendants Mayor Greg Bricker, Safety Service Director David Dawson, Captain Fred Flati, Captain Darin Morgan, Captain Chad Tatgenhorst, and Officer Robert Ramsey, respectively). Id. at PageID#147–51.
  • Claim 27: Fourteenth Amendment violation (against Defendants City of East Liverpool, Mayor Greg Bricker, Safety Service Director David Dawson, Captain Fred Flati, Captain Darin Morgan, and Captain Chad Tatgenhorst). Id. at PageID#151–55.
  • Claim 28: Reckless hiring, training, supervision, discipline, staffing, and retention (against Defendant City of East Liverpool). Id. at PageID#155–56.

The brief describes what the City is asking for—hiding the allegations under seal—as legally “radical”: “It’s one thing to demand that this Court technically strike allegations, which as shown above, it should not because everything alleged in the Amended Complaint is relevant to Plaintiff Green’s claims. But it’s another thing entirely to ask this Court to 'remove from public access' the Amended Complaint and original Complaint’s allegations to the point that third parties can’t even assess the merits of judicial decisions.” Green's brief cites controlling legal precedent holding that “The public has a strong interest in obtaining the information contained in the court record” that “the City didn’t bother to disclose to [the] Court.”

The brief observes, “With Defendants’ rampant misconduct now public, they seek to do what they always have—hide it from public scrutiny, rather than accepting responsibility and holding the wrongdoers accountable. Worse yet, Defendants seek to engage this Court improperly in the business of public-relations management.”

Were the City so concerned about its police department’s reputation for integrity, it should have imposed discipline when the misconduct occurred and imposed preventive measures afterward. It did neither. Instead, its leaders chose not only to do nothing and cover up the misconduct, but to retaliate against the one of the few straight-arrow cops they had.

Subodh Chandra, one of Green's attorneys and himself a former Cleveland law director and federal prosecutor, said of the East Liverpool's motion, "It never fails to amaze me how local governments and politicians think that trying to hide allegations of misconduct from public scrutiny is a smart strategy. All it does is rightly pique curiosity and draw more attention to them. It's called the Streisand Effect." Chandra added, "Our response shows how all of Officer Green's allegations support his legal claims."

Chandra made a public call for assistance, "We ask anyone who has information about the complaint’s allegations or related matters to contact us through"

Subodh Chandra
, Donald P. Screen, and Martin Desmond represent former Officer Green in the case entitled Green v. City of East Liverpool, et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Case No. 4:23-cv-00445. The opposition brief to the City’s motion to hide the allegations can be found here. A summary of the Amended Complaint can be found here. The Amended Complaint itself is linked here.

Chandra Law has experience obtaining justice for victims of First Amendment retaliation and employment retaliation generally, including public employees. The firm helped pioneer work in holding individuals and companies accountable for civil liability for criminal acts, securing the two leading Supreme Court of Ohio decisions favorable to crime victims on the topic. If you think that your rights have been violated, you may contact us to discuss your options.

Related Practice Areas
Employment RetaliationFirst AmendmentGovernment Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbusePolice Misconduct & BrutalityCrime Victims: Civil Action for Damages for Criminal Acts Under Ohio Revised Code § 2307.60

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