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VA PAYS TO SETTLE OFFICERS' LAWSUIT

Eight officers who complained about the VA police force's leaders get $960,000.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has formally settled a federal lawsuit filed by eight agency police officers who worked at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center for $960,000, according to court documents filed Monday.

With recent settlements to three other VA police officers at the Pinellas facility, the total payout by the VA is $1.3 million.

Such settlements are usually confidential, and the public rarely sees confirmation of cash paid out. But in a highly unusual move, the officers' attorney, Ward Meythaler, and the VA asked a federal judge in Tampa to enforce the terms of the settlement. The court file does not show why they made the request.

As a result, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven ordered the settlement to be filed and made part of the public record.

Meythaler and a VA spokesman declined to comment. In the settlement, the VA acknowledged no wrongdoing.

A trial would have offered a potentially embarrassing glimpse into the Young VA's small police force and its operations. Police leadership and officers have long been at odds over allegations that include sexual harassment, racial discrimination, physical altercations among officers and even disputes concerning policing strategies.

Bickering among officers and between officers and management has been going on for years. And much of it became public with the filing of multiple Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints by police employees, and then the lawsuit.

The police employees have alleged hospital leaders have long demonstrated a pattern of singling out workers who file EEOCcomplaints by denying them promotions and preferable assignments, making their work life difficult and derailing their careers.

Their lawsuit noted the Young VA's director, Wallace Hopkins, while waiting to testify in an EEOC case in 2010, was overheard telling police Chief Robert Shogren he "did not care how many police officers (the chief) fired and that he could fire them all." The chief laughed, the suit said. Hopkins later said he did not recall making the statement, the suit said.

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

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