A former Lawrence police sergeant who was fired earlier this year in connection with a traffic-ticket-fixing scandal says he intends to sue the city.
Michael Monroe said in an interview that he learned last week that City Manager David Corliss had upheld Police Chief Tarik Khatib’s decision in March to fire Monroe. The city manager’s decision reversed an earlier decision this summer by a city employee grievance review board to reinstate Monroe to the department with a demotion, Monroe said.
“I thought the evidence would have shown that I should be reinstated,” Monroe said.
Both Monroe and Khatib appealed the grievance panel’s decision to Corliss. Monroe said he appealed because he did not want to accept a demotion.
City officials declined to comment on Monroe’s grievance case Tuesday.
“The city does not comment on personnel matters or matters in which there may be, or is, pending litigation,” City Attorney Toni Wheeler said.
The grievance hearing lasted four days in which both Monroe and Khatib presented evidence. When Khatib and Monroe met with Corliss later about the appeal, it lasted a much shorter time. Monroe said Corliss notified him in a short letter last week that he was overturning the panel’s decision to reinstate him.
“I think he would have to justify his reasoning, and now there’s nothing for him to have to justify,” Monroe said. “I believe I should be given a specific reason. He implied that the board made a mistake, and he didn’t give a reason. But they heard far more evidence than he heard.”
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in March that he reviewed court cases that former Sgt. Matt Sarna and Monroe were involved in after the city provided him their names in connection with the personnel investigation.
City officials have said the investigation revealed six speeding tickets were dismissed from 2000 to 2009 for a former Kansas Athletics official who is now in prison as part of the broader Kansas University athletic-tickets-for-cash scandal from 2005 to 2010.
Monroe said the dismissed speeding tickets benefitted Rodney Dale Jones, who had worked as a KU ticket office manager and a leader of the Williams Fund. Jones is currently an inmate at a federal prison in Oklahoma.
Khatib has said the investigation revealed an officer, later identified as Sarna, had a long-term friendship dating to the late 1990s or early 2000s with an athletics employee and received free or discounted KU tickets over several years. At some point the athletics employee asked for help dismissing speeding tickets he received or was about to receive.
He said the investigation also revealed the officer may have asked a second officer two or three times for assistance in fixing traffic citations and that the second officer, who prosecutors later identified as Monroe, might have also received KU tickets through the first officer.
Khatib said in May 2011 he received an anonymous letter about the allegations involving the police department, and the matter was eventually referred to federal authorities.
Federal prosecutors and Branson did not file criminal charges against either Sarna or Monroe, saying the timing and circumstances of the receipt of the athletics tickets could not be directly linked to specific requests for fixing traffic tickets. But Khatib said the conduct violated the city’s gratuity policy.
Future legal action
As part of his grievance case, Monroe said, he alleged that Khatib knew about allegations involving Jones and a police officer about a year before the May 2011 anonymous letter. Monroe said he presented evidence before the panel alleging when Khatib was a captain supervising internal affairs in 2010 he knew “about an arrangement between Rodney Jones and another officer” but that Khatib “failed to conduct any kind of credible investigation and did not take any action at that time.”
Khatib referred questions Tuesday to Wheeler, the city attorney. Khatib did say in February that he believed there had been allegations of “similar activity” involving police department personnel made prior to the May 2011 anonymous tip. He said his understanding was that those allegations were examined but there was never enough evidence to take more formal action.
Monroe said he believed it was important when Khatib knew about the allegations involving Jones and another officer because Monroe said Khatib accused him of not coming forward with his own earlier concerns about a friendship between Jones and another officer.
“It was prior to 2010, but I didn’t believe it rose to the level of a violation, so I didn’t come forward,” Monroe said. “But I didn’t have all the facts. I didn’t have all the information that (Khatib) had.”
Monroe, who had worked as an officer since 1991, said the chief told him he would punish him by demoting him. But when Monroe declined to accept the demotion, he was fired.
During his interview with the Journal-World, Monroe talked specifically about some aspects of the grievance process and internal investigation, but he declined to answer other questions, citing a civil action he plans to pursue. He did not comment about whether he received any KU basketball tickets through Sarna or whether he asked other officers to dismiss any traffic tickets for Jones as a favor.
As part of the city’s grievance policy, Corliss will forward his decision in the case to the City Commission. Commissioners can only determine if a policy change is warranted. Monroe said he hoped commissioners would make changes to the city’s gratuity policy because he believed it was flawed and not interpreted correctly.
He also said he pursued the grievance process because he wanted to return to his position.
“There are so many outstanding people at the Lawrence Police Department,” Monroe said, “and the overwhelming majority of them want me to come back.”