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Long time police officer terminated by city

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Back in the spring of 2016, Rosanne Morrissette was seeing her dreams of advancement in the Gallup Police Department become a reality as she was promoted to lieutenant.

But then Phillip Hart was selected to be the new police chief and her dreams became a nightmare as she found herself pitted against one of the department’s most powerful individuals.

Over the next two years, she became involved in an internal struggle that led to her filing suit against the department, coming under investigation and being placed on administrative leave. Finally, she learned earlier this week that she had been fired after serving 17 years as a police officer for the city of Gallup.

Her attorney, Thomas Grover, has now filed an appeal with the city asking for the firing to be reversed and has also notified the city that he plans to file a tort claim to get damages, not only for the firing, but also for the way the police department has allegedly treated her for the past two years.

Grover has expressed amazement as to how the police department has treated his client, saying he has never seen “such egregious action” taken by a police department against one of its officers.

During the time Robert Cron was police chief, Morrissette was given more and more responsibility and shortly after he resigned and several high-ranking officers retired in his wake, positions opened up and Morrissette was promoted to lieutenant and given the responsibility of being the department’s liaison with the press.

In the department, dealing with the press was an important function since the department had worked well during the Cron years with local reporters to the point where reporters were provided with as much help as they needed to cover the department, which had a policy of being transparent.

But Morrissette’s problems with the department started just days after Cron’s retirement as Franklin Boyd, one of the department’s captains, was named acting police chief until Hart arrived to take over the position.

During that time, reporters began hearing some people in the department questioning Boyd’s appointment, pointing out that he was under investigation because of a complaint that had been filed against him by someone in the department.

That person turned out to be Morrissette.

“On or about May 17, 2016, Boyd subjected Ms. Morrissette to a verbal excoriation the likes  of which were extreme,” said Grover in his letter to Maryann Ustick, Gallup’s city manager.

“The incident was witnessed and described by retired Captain Rick White as something of such significance, he stated he’d never seen such an outburst by a superior upon a subordinate in his 27 years in law enforcement,” Grover said.

The incident triggered an internal investigation within the department and Morrissette’s position within the department became precarious as Hart decided to appoint Boyd as his deputy chief. One of the first things Hart did as police chief was take away Morrisette’s responsibility to work with the press and turn it over to Captain Marinda Spencer, saying he wanted that responsibility handled by a captain.

Morrissette was allowed to serve as press liaison when Spencer was not available for the next few months, but as Morrisette’s relationship with Hart deteriorated, even that was taken away and she found herself under attack within the department. At about the same time, members of the press began finding it more difficult to gain access to police reports.

Because of her reduction in responsibility, and being reassigned, she filed a charge of discrimination against Boyd with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, alleging various forms of gender, race and national origin discrimination by people in the department and by Boyd specifically.

Boyd was given a reprimand but it didn’t end there as Morrissette asked for a copy of the report and was told she could not have this, even though her attorney argued that these kinds of reports are routinely supplied to people who file a complaint.

Morrissette finally had to file a lawsuit in state court, and after several hearings, the court ordered the city to turn it over to her and pay Grover $15,000 in legal fees.

By this time, Hart himself was having a lot of problems with the City of Gallup over his demand that the city stop using community service aides to pick up intoxicated persons and place them in the city’s detox center. He cited state law which said the placement of these individuals had to be done by a physician or a certified police officer. The community service aides were not certified.

This dispute went on for months and finally ended in the state court as well and Morrissette found herself in the middle as a whistleblower, which did not help her relations with either Hart or Boyd.

She continued to work for the police department although she didn’t know from day to day what she would be doing or what the department was planning to do to get her off the force.

On July 28, 2017, she finally found out what the department was planning.

She received a letter from Hart telling her that she was a “target” of an allegation of harassment by a subordinate employee. These charges were investigated and found to be invalid.

But then, said Grover, Boyd “inserted additional charges against (her) without ever giving her notice of the additional charges.”

Boyd was originally scheduled to do the review, said Grover, but because of the history between Boyd and Morrissette, he was required to recuse himself from the investigation. While this was going on, Boyd submitted a recommendation that Morrissette be demoted two ranks, going from lieutenant to patrol officer.

On Oct. 12, Hart issued another target letter to Morrissette which said again that she was a target of allegation by a subordinate who was claiming harassment. The letter also referred to the possibility that she would be demoted to patrol officer.

Grover said Boyd once again inserted himself into this investigation proving “personal knowledge of matters into his summary of the case, confirming he was a material witness to matters of the investigation.”

Both Grover and Morrissette objected to the way these complaints were being addressed saying they were completed “in stark contradiction to basic police internal affairs investigation training and protocols.”

Then on March 8, 2018 a hearing was held in connection with a letter of reprimand issued by Spencer dealing with other allegations of misconduct.

Morrissette asked for permission to bring witnesses to the hearing to speak, on her behalf. Grover said Hart at that time issued another letter “falsely claiming” that Morrissette had intimidated the witnesses to speak on her behalf.

Grover said Hart then used these allegations to place Morrissette on administrative leave with pay which was still her status this week when she was terminated.

During this process, Grover said both Hart and Boyd had “published statements alleging and defaming Morrissette” saying that she had been untruthful which both Hart and Boyd knew were false.

Spencer was asked on Tuesday if the police had any response to the allegations and she referred all calls to the city where officials, as of press time, have not issued a statement in connection with Morrissette’s firing.

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Sun