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Former IPRA investigator’s lawsuit against city dismissed

Sun-Times file photo

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former police misconduct investigator who alleged he was ordered to find a police shooting was unjustified.

Kelvin Lett’s seven-count lawsuit against the city and his former bosses was tossed out last week by a federal judge.

Lett filed suit last year, alleging he was demoted to janitorial duties within the Independent Police Review Authority — the predecessor the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — after he bucked pressure from his supervisors who wanted him to find that a police shooting was unjustified.

Lett’s attorney, Cass Casper, said he will appeal the ruling. Casper noted that a lawsuit brought against the city by another former IPRA investigator, Lorenzo Davis, was initially dismissed before a jury eventually awarded him $2.8 million.

“As shocking as his case was, we believe Kelvin’s case is even stronger and that justice will ultimately be served to Kelvin, whether in the Court of Appeals or in State Court,” Casper said in an emailed statement. “We’re not giving up any ground and are carrying on the fight as long as we need to. It simply is not, and cannot, be the law that supervisors may force their subordinates to tell untruths in official documents. We believe the First Amendment protects workers from that.”

In an emailed statement, Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said: “We are pleased with the court’s decision, but cannot comment further as the case is going to be appealed.”

A spokesman for COPA declined to comment on the dismissal.

Lett’s lawsuit alleged that in June 2016, Sharon Fairley, IPRA’s former chief administrator, ordered him “to alter his reports so as to lie about his findings on a particular case regarding an officer-involved shooting of a civilian.”

He claimed Fairley said “he had to have a more ‘devious mind’ to do this job and that he needed to lie about his findings in such a way to reflect that the officer shooting was unjustified.”

Specifically, Fairley allegedly “ordered Lett to lie in his reports that a gun was planted on the victim by the officers involved in the shooting.” The lawsuit said “Lett protested and refused to do so because he had no evidence to support that finding.”

Within two weeks, Fairley transferred Lett to janitorial duties and opened an investigation into Lett for allegedly disclosing confidential information. She ordered him fired in February 2017 after the investigation concluded Lett violated IPRA’s confidentiality policy, according to his lawsuit.

Lett filed a grievance through AFSCME, and an arbitrator ordered him reinstated with back pay and said his record should be expunged. Lett’s lawsuit alleged he was denied due process when he was reinstated but immediately placed on administrative leave with pay.

In his dismissal order, U.S. District Judge John Blakey wrote that “to plausibly allege deprivation of due process, a plaintiff must either avail themselves of the ‘remedies guaranteed by state law or demonstrate that the available remedies are inadequate.’”

Blakey added that Lett’s lawsuit “remains silent” as to if he ever sought those remedies.