Three Beaumont police officers and the union that represents about 40 sworn personnel have filed a claim alleging retaliation for their call to evaluate the chief of police, according to city records and the union.
In a six-page document dated Nov. 3, the Beaumont Police Officers Association and members Scot Davis, Brian Ford and Jeremy Harris made their government claim against the City of Beaumont, Beaumont Police Chief Frank Coe, Beaumont police Commander Greg Fagan, and Beaumont police Sgt. Mark Keyser.
Coe said Monday morning the claim is a personnel action with no merit.
"It's a process they have to go through before deciding if they want to go into litigation," Coe said in a phone interview. "We don't believe there's any merit. That's why we're recommending the city deny the claim."
City of Beaumont staff have recommended the five-member City Council deny the officers' and union's claim at Tuesday's meeting. The item is on the agenda consent calender, which according to the agenda means the item does not require a public hearing or discussion.
The Beaumont Police Officers Association is the exclusive bargaining representative for sworn personnel employed by the Beaumont Police Department, according to their attorney, Christopher Gaspard of Upland.
The union has 40 active members, who represent more than 70 percent of the department's sworn personnel, according to the union's web site.
"In early April 2011, the Association voted to conduct an evaluation of Beaumont Police Chief Frank Coe," the claim states.
Davis and Ford spoke at an association meeting regarding Coe's performance and were supportive of the effort to conduct the evaluation, according to the claim.
"On or about April 20, 2011, the Association sent a letter to City Manager Alan Kapanicas, with an attachment containing numerous officer critiques of Chief Coe's performance," the claim states.
The majority of the critiques contained negative comments, and some of the statements were made by Davis and Harris, according to the claim.
The letter to Kapanicas explained the purpose of the evaluation was to "express a voice and bring light to any areas of improvement that can be addressed and/or corrected . . . " according to the claim.
"Based on information and belief, Chief Coe was furious about the Association's letter and immediately initiated a campaign of retaliation and discrimination against the Association and its members intended to silence their speech and punish them for their speech and petition for redress," the claim states.
Coe also tried to get the president of the Beaumont Police Officers Association to disclose which officers made specific statements in the letter to Kapanicas, according to the claim.
Greivances against Coe, according to the claim, include his refusal to promote union members and his harsh punishment of union members, including Davis, Ford and Harris.
According to the claim, the City of Beaumont hired Davis as a police corporal in October 2007. Ford was hired as a Beaumont police officer in March 2008, and Harris was hired as a Beaumont police corporal in January 2009.
They have each received numerous certifications and commendations, according to the claim.
In addition, prior to their association speech in April, Davis, Ford, and Harris had stellar work records, according to the claim.
"But immediately after their speech calling into question the Chief' s qualifications, they were all subjected to incredibly harsh discipline for trumped-up, pretext charges," the claim states.
"Right after discovering the letter sent to the City Manager by the Association, Chief Coe instituted what he called a 'zero tolerance' policy for discipline - he began hammering members of the Association, including . . . Davis, Harris, and Ford, with draconian levels of discipline for minor allegations of misconduct."
The claim also alleges Coe attempted to "silence free speech" of other union members.
"Based on information and belief, Chief Coe also subjected other officers to harshly disparate treatment based on their involvement with the evaluation letter," the claim states. "(T)hose officers entered into settlements with the City which reduced the draconian level of discipline against them.
"On or about November 1, a commander for the police department circulated a memo stating that officers currently employed by the department shall not provide employment references to prospective employers of the officers who had settled with the city," the claim states. "The commander required each officer to sign the memo.
"Chief Coe's actions establish a prior restraint against the exercise of free speech by his officers, as the competence of law enforcement officers has been clearly established as a matter of public concern."
The claim seeks damages including "recovery of all unlawfully withheld wages and benefits" as well as "recovery of all attorney's fees, costs and expenses as are necessarily incurred by them in prosecuting this action."
Coe said Monday that "Nobody lost any money in the process of the allegations. If the officers and POA decide they want to proceed to the next step then we'll go into litigation."
The claim, if not resolved, will be filed as an unlimited civil case, according to Gaspard.