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Frederick cop alleges superiors punished him for ‘Blue Lives Matter’ rally

A Frederick police officer has sued the department and several superiors for allegedly intimidating and defaming him in retaliation for a Blue Lives Matter rally he organized last year.

Daniel Sullivan seeks $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages for violations of his constitutional rights, according to the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

“His goal is to protect the freedoms that he was protecting overseas, that he has a right under the First Amendment to support, with the Blue Lives Matter rally, the widows of fellow officers,” said Daniel L. Cox, Sullivan’s lawyer.

Sullivan, a military veteran and member of the Frederick Police Department since 2004, organized the rally last July “to both provide an opportunity for speaking out with the public’s support for the safety of police and to hopefully dialogue positively with anti-police groups, which were also invited to join the rally for peace and in support of fallen police officers and their families,” according to the complaint.

Sullivan announced the date and time of the rally on social media but claims the police department strongly encouraged him to cancel the event and intimidated him and others thinking of attending, the complaint states.

The rally was held July 24, 2016 with no alleged incidents but Sullivan claims immediately after the event, his superiors began retaliating against him and launched an internal investigation.

That night of the rally, for example, Sullivan was one of the officers working at the city’s rescheduled Fourth of July fireworks display, where he was assigned at the last minute to work at a “busy and dangerous” intersection with no patrol car, according to the complaint. The next day, Sullivan was called into a meeting and reprimanded for organizing the rally by a superior, according to the complaint.

In August, Sullivan informed the department that he needed neck surgery and he was verbally ordered to turn in his gun and badge which was “highly unusual,” according to the complaint. Though Sullivan’s doctor informed him at least six weeks off duty was required after the surgery, Sullivan returned sooner because he feared for his job, the lawsuit states.

Internal investigation

Sullivan was given official notice in September that an internal investigation had been launched the previous month but alleges records later showed the investigation began July 25 and he was not notified for nearly 60 days. He was also served with the complaint by a lieutenant who was not in charge of internal affairs investigations.

The internal affairs complaint alleged Sullivan posted unprofessional remarks on Facebook, including identifying an individual as mentally ill and opining that law enforcement officers are under-equipped. Sullivan was cleared of wrongdoing but claims his personnel file “remains riddled with accusatory and defamatory information” about the investigation and that leadership continued to bring up performance issues.

“The charges are false and defamatory and were used to unlawfully cause him great legal expense, and emotional pain and suffering,” the lawsuit alleges.

Sullivan alleges his health has suffered as a result of the department’s actions, including high blood pressure and hospitalization for a stress-induced illness, and that he has not been promoted despite 12 years of service.

“He really is an awesome American hero,” said Cox, an Emmitsburg solo practitioner. “He and his wife have cared for their son (who is disabled) and hosted different disability outreaches in the community.”

Cox added his client wants other officers to know they have First Amendment rights and don’t need to shy away from exercising free speech.

The lawsuit alleges violations of Sullivan’s First Amendment rights, retaliation for his exercise of those rights as well as a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights for deviating from internal investigation protocol.

Sullivan also alleges the department created a hostile work environment in violation of LEOBR and defamed him. Cox declined to comment on the specifics of the disciplinary process and Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights claims.

Saundra Nickols, the city attorney for Frederick, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The case is Frederick Police Officer Daniel Sullivan v. City of Frederick, Maryland, et al., 1:17-cv-01881-JKB.

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