Asheville Police Department Lt. Mark Byrd, claiming the city of Asheville’s management and the APD’s leadership retaliated and discriminated against him on a number of occasions, including when his wife filed a sexual harassment suit, filed a lawsuit in federal court Jan. 21.
The lawsuit alleges that in its treatment of Byrd and other dissenting officers, the APD has “engaged in discrimination, retaliation, intimidation, and the use of falsehoods.” According to the suit, Byrd was assigned to “duties and projects in excess of those normally assigned to an officer in his position,” excluded from disciplinary and planning meetings that he normally would have been a part of, and assigned duties that ensured he couldn’t take family leave he had been approved for following the 2013 birth of his child.
Asheville Interim City Attorney Martha McGlohon issued this official response:
The City and APD take any allegation of discrimination extremely seriously. Because we safeguard the privacy of our employees and because of State law, we cannot comment on pending litigation. But what we can say is that our employment guidelines are very clear that we do not tolerate discrimination or retaliation for any reason whatsoever. We are proud of our workforce, including the brave men and women of the APD and believe them to be examples of the quality of service that draws citizens and visitors to our city year after year.
Starting last year, Byrd, who has worked with the APD for 15 years, sharply and publicly criticized Chief William Anderson and other senior officers, alleging that they mishandled an accident involving the chief’s son, had a pattern of “false and misleading information” and retaliated against him and others who brought concerns forward. A subsequent city investigation largely cleared Anderson, but found he had made some mistakes and promised a planning process to address concerns with the APD’s management.
According to the suit, Byrd and two other lieutenants who criticized Anderson were then excluded from that planning process.
While Byrd was promoted to lieutenant in 2012, the suit claims this was part of a pre-determined process that his superiors couldn’t easily halt, and that afterwards he was publicly insulted by a supervisor, given duties that normally wouldn’t be assigned to his rank and kept out of disciplinary and decision-making processes.
Byrd is also the husband of Cherie Byrd, a police officer who filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 charging racist and sexist text messages were sent by her supervisor, then-Sgt. Eric Lauffer. The city’s defense later admitted that the messages were sent, but denied any wrongdoing. Lauffer was demoted, but not fired, and the case was settled out of court for $52,100.
The suit alleges that after his wife filed the 2010 suit, Byrd was reprimanded for his part in a phone prank, although the other employees involved did not complain and weren’t disciplined. He and his wife were also asked to turn over their weapons, even though the rules would normally allow him to carry one on his duties.
Byrd is seeking at least $85,000 in damages, the removal of all negative material identified in the lawsuit from his personnel file and restrictions on the APD and the city from any further retaliatory action.
The full lawsuit can be read here.