The former Bradford City police officer fired after theft charges were lodged against him has filed a civil rights complaint against the city, Mayor Tom Riel and Police Chief Chris Lucco.
Shayne Miller, 45, was acquitted on the two summary retail theft allegations, which had alleged he had taken meat from Walmart without paying for it in the self-checkout registers.
Erie attorney John Mizner is representing Miller.
A press release sent out late Friday afternoon from Mizner’s office read as follows: “The complaint avers that Mr. Miller’s constitutionally-protected due process rights were violated when he was terminated without meaningful notice of the reason for his firing, nor any opportunity to review of the evidence against him. The complaint also avers that Police Chief Lucco and Mayor Riel intentionally defamed Mr. Miller, in an attempt to justify their decision to terminate him without just cause.”
Miller is seeking financial compensation in excess of $300,000, and wants his job back.
The suit is filed in Erie before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Reached late Friday, neither Lucco nor Riel had been served with a copy of the suit. After learning of the suit and its contents, both men had something to say.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Miller has decided to retaliate in this manner for action that the City of Bradford took to protect the integrity of the police department,” commented Lucco.
In the suit, attorney Mizner is alleging should the city have held off on the decision on Miller’s employment, “they would have known that Mr. Miller was exonerated of the absurd accusations leveled against him.”
Miller filed a grievance against the city, alleging he was terminated without justification, the suit stated. It was denied by the city, with a notification that “the evidence supports the conclusion you stole meat from Walmart,” the suit read.
On Friday, the opinions of the police chief and mayor hadn’t changed.
“Although I didn’t investigate this from a criminal standpoint due to it being outside of our jurisdiction, with nearly 21 years of law enforcement experience, there certainly is evidence of improprieties,” the chief told The Era. Riel agreed.
“This is the first I’ve heard of (the suit) and it sounds like a bunch of laughable nonsense,” the mayor said. “I don’t feel the city did anything improper. The city’s actions were taken after consultation with several attorneys.”
While the suit deals mostly with Miller’s theft allegations and firing, there is also a section making allegations against Lucco, regarding his temperament and his perceived relationship with Miller.
Lucco and Miller had known each other since high school, the suit stated, and characterized their general relationship as “good,” but with a caveat — “Lucco has always been a bully.”
The suit alleges the relationship between the two “soured,” and said “Lucco has a well-known fiery temper and multiple times has exploded in anger against Mr. Miller.”
A “hostile work environment” was created by Lucco, the suit alleged, saying the chief was “repeatedly intimating to other officers on the force that there was something of a ‘sexual tension’ between Mr. Miller and himself.”
He alleged Lucco would tell other officers that Miller “wanted to be hugged, or wanted to have his back and shoulders rubbed” by the chief, the suit stated, saying Lucco had “snuck up behind Mr. Miller while they were at work, and physically rubbed and touched him.”
While acknowledging that Lucco “always presented these suggestions to the other officers in a joking manner,” the suit goes on to state that the actions made Miller uncomfortable.
On Friday, Lucco responded to questions from The Era regarding these allegations as well.
“I worked with Mr. Miller from the time he was hired until the time of his discharge,” Lucco said. “I always felt we had a reasonably good relationship. Certainly there were times that off-color humor and bantering went back and forth. Mr. Miller never advised that it was an issue, as he often took part in the joking.”
Riel commented as well, saying, “We never, ever received any complaint from Mr. Miller regarding Chief Lucco.”
While Miller could not be reached for comment Friday, his attorney spoke on his behalf.
Mizner said, “Shayne Miller is a good man whose well-deserved reputation for honesty and integrity has been forever unjustly smeared. This lawsuit is the first step in restoring to Mr. Miller his good name, and holding those public officials accountable for their conduct.”
He confirmed, too, that if able to, Miller would return to the department, with a condition: “If the police chief changes his management style and eliminates the hostile environment that existed and led to Mr. Miller's unlawful termination.”
When asked if they are planning to seek Lucco’s removal from his role as chief, Mizner replied as follows: “We are at the initial stages of our investigation and plan to do everything within the law to hold all responsible parties accountable. What happened to Mr. Miller should never happen again and we will do our best to make sure of it.”
Original article by: MARCIE SCHELLHAMME • Era Associate Editor