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Former police lieutenant sues Independence officials for First Amendment retaliation

Monday, October 28, 2019

Patrol commander was forced to retire after being falsely accused of leaking information to the media about a new traffic-ticket quota

CLEVELAND, OHIO— Leonard Mazzola, a long-time veteran of the Independence Police Department, today filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the City of Independence and three of its top officials—mayor Anthony Togliatti, police chief Michael Kilbane, and law director Gregory O’Brien—alleging First Amendment retaliation and related claims.

The complaint outlines how Independence officials pursued a policy—specifically outlawed by many states—of setting traffic-ticket quotas to increase revenue. The policy, which the police chief dubbed a “performance standard,” required each patrol officer to write 10 tickets per month or face discipline. On January 11, 2019 one officer was disciplined for failing to meet his quota.

Three days later, Ed Gallek, a Fox 8 reporter, exposed the policy for what it was in a featured story. The negative publicity sparked community outrage.

Lt. Mazzola, the complaint states, implemented the quota at the police chief’s direction and continued to do so despite pushback from patrol officers. But after he attended a management-training seminar that questioned the legality of quotas, in late February 2019, Lt. Mazzola voiced his concerns about the policy in an internal email. City officials then launched an investigation to identify the leak, hiring an outside investigator at a cost of $7,000.

The complaint states that the City’s investigation targeted Lt. Mazzola even though he had not actually notified the media—subjecting him to a mandatory polygraph in violation of City policy. The complaint details how the City then gave Lt. Mazzola an ultimatum: retire or be demoted. The complaint goes on to describe how the City also threatened to put Lt. Mazzola on a list of officers who have lied—a Brady/Giglio list—even though he had been truthful and was not the source.

Mr. Gallek later confirmed in a follow-up story that Lt. Mazzola was not the source. The outside investigation did not determine who shared the information with Mr. Gallek.

Lt. Mazzola’s counsel, Subodh Chandra, said, “The First Amendment forbids targeting public employees who expose wrongdoing. It also protects those like Lenny Mazzola who are falsely accused of sharing information on matters of public concern. Whoever tipped the press to the quota policy was protected by the First Amendment, and it was wrong to scapegoat our client into retirement because City officials were embarrassed that their revenue-enhancement scheme was revealed.”

The case, captioned Leonard Mazzola v. Anthony Togliatti, Michael Kilbane, Gregory O’Brien, and the City of Independence, was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Case No. 1:19-cv-002519 and is pending before Judge James S. Gwin. The complaint may be found here.

Subodh Chandra and Brian Bardwell of The Chandra Law Firm LLC represent Lt. Mazzola.

Related Practice Areas
First AmendmentGovernment Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbusePolice Misconduct & Brutality

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