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Two Jacksonville Police Department employees -- a former public information official and a former detective -- filed separate lawsuits against the city Friday claiming that acting department leadership violated their rights through demotions.

The lawsuits filed by officer Daniel Sipes, a former detective, and April Kiser, the department's former spokesman, bring to seven the number of department employees who have taken legal action after a rash of transfers in the department amid a broader controversy.

City Attorney Robert Bamburg was installed as police director last year after Mayor Gary Fletcher's April 2016 hire, Geoffrey Herweg, was removed from the police chief post by a court order.

The Arkansas Supreme Court found that a previous conviction for giving a false report disqualified Herweg from holding the position. City Council member Tara Smith filed the lawsuit to remove Herweg.

Little Rock attorney Robert Newcomb filed the latest lawsuits, on behalf of Sipes and Kiser.

Sipes accused the city of violating the state's Civil Rights Act and Whistleblower Act when it transferred him from a detective position to a patrolman position. Sipes maintained that he was "the individual who found that the Police Chief Herweg had been arrested and was on mugshot.com and informed Tara Smith of these facts," according to the lawsuit.

His transfer was to a "less desirable position," eliminated his use of a take-home car and requires him to work a rotating 12-hour shift with different days off each week, when he previously did not have to work on weekends.

Kiser alleges that Bamburg and Fletcher discriminated against her on the basis of her sex after she appealed for a better health insurance policy that would include preventative care for breast cancer. Kiser is at an elevated risk for breast cancer and asked for better care in August, she said in her lawsuit.

Fletcher, a board member for the city's health fund, "made belittling comments" when Kiser made the appeal, the suit says.

Bamburg assumed the public information officer's duties when he was elevated to interim chief, according to the suit.

Kiser, who is not a certified police officer, is now working in a secretarial position; her tasks include scanning old internal affairs reports, Newcomb said. Her salary was reduced from $38,000 to $33,236, or about 12.5 percent, according to the lawsuit.

"Is it a gender issue? Of all those [employees who] got moved, she was the only one who got a pay cut," Newcomb said.

Also on Friday, the city responded to an earlier suit filed by five police officers who sought to remove Bamburg from the police position on the grounds that he cannot simultaneously hold two city jobs.

The lawsuit, filed by Nate Steel of the Little Rock firm Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson, also argued that Bamburg retaliated against rank-and-file officers who supported Herweg's removal.

The city, represented by North Little Rock attorney John Wilkerson, denied most of the allegations, including that Bamburg is serving as the "de facto Police Chief."

"All actions regarding the Plaintiffs were taken, made, and done in good faith, and were not impermissibly based upon any unlawful consideration or otherwise the result of any unlawful motive," the response says.

Reached by phone, Fletcher declined to comment, saying it's "not good practice" to speak about pending litigation.

Information for this article was contributed by Ryan Tarinelli of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 04/29/2018

Print Headline: 2 suits filed over Jacksonville job changes

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