A Wayne County Circuit Court jury awarded two fired Detroit police officers $6.5 million yesterday in a whistleblowing case against the city that stemmed from allegations of extramarital affairs by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and misconduct by his security detail.
Kilpatrick denies the allegations of affairs and of misconduct by his security detail. He said the city would appeal the verdict.
The case dates to 2003 when Dep. Chief Gary Brown and Officer Harold Nelthrope were essentially forced out of the Detroit PD.
Nelthrope was a member of the mayor’s security detail when Kilpatrick’s office released information that he was the source of an investigation into misconduct by other mayoral bodyguards. He had come forward as an informant saying that other bodyguards were partying on city time, wrecking city vehicles, and committing overtime fraud. Nelthrope also told investigators about a “wild party” at the mayoral mansion and other misconduct by the mayor and his wife. State investigators dropped the investigation of the “wild party.”
Nelthrope also revealed that he had escorted the mayor to extramarital trysts, a charge denied by the mayor and the woman involved.
Nelthrope sued the city, arguing that when the mayor’s office revealed that he was the informant they ended his career. He was transferred out of the security detail and could not return to work because of worries about the safety of his family and himself.
Dep. Chief Gary Brown conducted the investigation into the actions of the security detail and was subsequently forced out. The former head of Detroit PD’s Internal Affairs unit, Brown sued saying that he was fired for looking into Nelthrope's allegations.
Defense attorneys for the city and Kilpatrick argued that neither officer was fired. They said that Brown was demoted and reassigned after the mayor lost confidence in his work and that
Nelthrope left the force on a disability pension.
The jurors didn’t buy it. They agreed with the plaintiffs that Kilpatrick had ruined the plaintiffs’ careers. They awarded Brown $3.6 million and Nelthrope $2.9, plus interest for four years. One juror told the Detroit Free-Press that he wanted to award the officers even more.
Nelthrope told the Associated Press that the verdict offered him personal and professional vindication. “The main thing I wanted was to have my name and reputation back and to be compensated for what they did because it was wrong,” he said.
The verdict does not prove or disprove allegations of improper conduct by the mayor or his security detail. The verdict covers only claims of improper dismissal under Michigan’s whistleblower law.
However, the verdict is likely to be a major setback to the political aspirations of Kilpatrick, America's second-youngest serving mayor.
And Brown predicted that the verdict might lead to further investigation of the allegations against Kilpatrick and his bodyguards because it may embolden other whistleblowers. “I know there are other city employees who know a lot more than I found in my investigation,” Brown told the Free-Press. “I hope they will come forward and put an end to this culture of corruption in the mayor’s office.”