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Tampa police officials say lieutenant was fired for lying after complaining he was targeted for his race

TAMPA — A Tampa police lieutenant who filed a federal complaint saying he was a victim of racial discrimination has been fired because he was untruthful in that complaint, police officials said Friday.

Dwayne "D.J." Johnson, 42, who joined the force in 1994, was terminated Friday after an internal affairs investigation determined that he had misrepresented the reason he was put on administrative duty in March 2008.

Jeff Stull, Johnson's attorney, said he expects his client to appeal.

"We disagree with the findings of the Tampa Police Department, and we intend to pursue the due process rights through the grievance procedure," he said.

The Tampa Police Department maintains that Johnson was put on administrative duty after his ex-wife filed a temporary domestic violence injunction against him on March 7, 2008. The domestic court order restricted Johnson from possessing any guns, including his duty weapons, according to the internal affairs report.

Additionally, Johnson had been observed yelling at work, ordering other officers to arrest his ex-wife, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. As a result, Johnson was placed on administrative leave, stripped of permission to wear his uniform or drive his police car, and ordered to undergo psychological testing to evaluate his fitness for duty.

Johnson showed up at Dr. Vincent Skotko's office for the evaluation on March 10, 2008, but refused to sign paperwork allowing the results to be shared with his employer, records show.

Johnson's captain went to Skotko's office and ordered him "per the chief of police, you are to sign these releases and participate in this examination," according to a March 26, 2008, memo from then-Assistant Chief Jane Castor to then-Chief Steve Hogue.

Johnson reported that he was told he would be relieved of duty if he didn't sign the forms, according to Castor.

Johnson continued to refuse.

He then disobeyed his major's orders by going to Hogue's office, unsuccessfully demanding a meeting with him, then heading to Mayor Pam Iorio's office when he was told Hogue was unavailable, according to the report.

As Iorio entered the building, "Lt. Johnson immediately approached the mayor, blocked her path and engaged her in a brief but unsolicited and inappropriate conversation in full public view," the report states.

Iorio told Hogue.

Later, Johnson denied he was given orders by his major not to break command and go straight to Iorio, the department says.

When Johnson filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on March 13, 2008, he said he had been suspended from his job "unjustly and discriminatorily."

Johnson wrote in the complaint that the agency said it was stripping him of his powers because of "insubordination."

"However, this is only a blatant pretext, and the real reason is because of my race (African-American) and a perceived disability," his complaint states.

Johnson claimed that his ex-wife had told his employer that he was bipolar, resulting in the order to get a psychological evaluation. Johnson said in his EEOC complaint that he felt the information from any such screening should be confidential.

"My work performance is satisfactory," the complaint states. "I do not have a record of any behavior relating to bi-polar."

By April 3, 2008, police union representatives had reached an agreement with the city of Tampa regarding what information Skotko's office would release to the department.

A screening found Johnson fit for duty, and he returned to his position, a police spokeswoman said.

Personnel and internal affairs records show that Johnson had a history of disciplinary issues, including a 2001 demotion from corporal to officer, a position he regained through a grievance.

Through the years, Johnson climbed back up through the ranks, working most recently in District 1, which covers Tampa's peninsula, west side and Davis Islands areas.

Officers have responded to Johnson's house eight times in the past two years, including six times on "domestic disturbance" issues and once for a call classified simply as "disturbance," police records show.

When questioned about the wording of his statements to the EEOC, Johnson told internal affairs investigators that he believed the federal agency paraphrased his complaint and that, though he had signed it, he hadn't actually written it.

"The details in the … EEOC form provided by Lt. Johnson … are more than just misleading, they are untruthful," the internal affairs report concluded.

Another internal affairs report found that Johnson failed to take appropriate action after he was ordered to monitor the behavior of a corporal who appeared to be coming to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to the department, six months passed before another lieutenant acting outside the chain of command confronted her about the issue.

Assistant Chief John Bennett said Johnson's termination is about integrity.

"Once you're sworn as a police officer," he said, "you have an extremely powerful position in the community. You have the right to take away someone's freedom. If, in any situation, you show that the integrity is in jeopardy, it has to be taken seriously."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Tampa police officials say lieutenant was fired for lying after complaining he was targeted for his race 10/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 11:56pm]
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