Veteran Smyrna cop files lawsuit against chief, 2 other officers

Norman E. Wood

SMYRNA — A former 20-year member of the Smyrna Police Department detailed allegations of an officer’s suspected sexual activity on duty, secret recordings, profanity-laced threats and firearms-related violations in a 10-page federal lawsuit filed on March 1.

Plaintiff Phillip Klink included Police Chief Norman E. Wood, two officers (a lieutenant and corporal) and the Town of Smyrna as defendants when demanding a jury trial in U.S. District Court.

According to Mr. Klink, he allegedly resigned under pressure on Oct. 21, 2016, capping a deteriorating relationship with Chief Wood and another officer fueled by a reported “no confidence” union vote against the chief and other matters.

Tension rose at Smyrna PD after the Delaware Attorney General’s office began to investigate police department operations that were allegedly illegal and unconstitutional in late 2016, the lawsuit claimed.

On Thursday, Delaware Department of Justice spokesman Carl Kanefsky said the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust has been reviewing allegations involving Smyrna Police Department.

Chief declines comment

Chief Wood declined comment on Thursday regarding the lawsuit. An e-mail attempt to reach Smyrna Mayor Joanne Masten for comment on Friday was not immediately successful.

The lawsuit was first reported online at delawarepolicenews.org on Wednesday.

According to Brandon L. Dunning, acting president of the FOP Lodge 22, in October, union members voted 15-0 for a no-confidence vote in the chief, with six abstentions on June 22, 2016. The FOP outlined complaints against Smyrna’s top cop.

“Our lack of confidence in Chief Wood’s ability to lead our agency is a direct result of his inability to establish a strategic organizational mission, failure to lead by example, inability to inspire and motivate others, poor communication skills and failure to coach/develop his employees,” the FOP stated in a letter.

Other concerns raised by the FOP brought on investigation by the attorney general’s office.

Mr. Klink claimed that Chief Wood and another officer were concerned that he could reportedly confirm some accusations and allegedly conspired to have him terminated. At another point in the lawsuit, the former lieutenant claimed that a third officer was involved in attempting to coerce him to resign.

Attorney Daniel Herr filed the lawsuit on Mr. Klink’s behalf in Wilmington. He declined comment when contacted by the Delaware State News this week.
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against all damages, lost past, present, and future wages, income, benefits, and earning power, among other requests.

Citing the Delaware Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, Mr. Klink is asking for his action costs to be compensated, and reasonable lawyer’s fees.
The plaintiff said he was a sworn police officer protected by the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights as the alleged saga unfolded.

Questions and answers

Around Oct. 20, 2016, a police corporal named in the lawsuit allegedly approached Mr. Klink and inquired about the ongoing attorney general’s investigation and he “did not provide (the officer) a meaningful answer to this question …”

The questioning continued, Mr. Klink alleged, and he was supposedly recorded without his knowledge.

The conversation initially began when the officer allegedly came to Mr. Klink to discuss a virus loaded onto the police department’s computers.

“(The officer) asked (Mr. Klink) if he was in trouble,” Mr. Klink alleged and to the best of his knowledge he “responded that he did not know and that Wood was handling the issue.”

At that point, according to Mr. Klink, the questioning turned to the attorney general’s investigation.

On the next day, according to Mr. Klink, he was supposedly called to Chief Wood’s office and was given the choice to resign or be fired, with expletives punctuating the alleged demands.

Chief Wood allegedly called the then-officer a liar, which he denied, the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit claimed that Chief Wood then allegedly reached over to his computer and played a part of Mr. Klink’s conversation with the corporal from the day before and then stated, “that’s your voice, you’re done, it ends today (or similar language).”

According to Mr. Klink, he and Chief Wood both allegedly talked to the Smyrna town attorney over the telephone before ending a call.

“Ultimately, (Mr. Klink) succumbed to Wood’s threats and resigned,” the lawsuit claimed.

Copies of resignation papers were not given to Mr. Klink, he alleged.

“Wood told (Mr. Klink) to leave immediately and took (Klink’s) firearm and equipment,” the plaintiff alleged.

At that point, the chief allegedly told Mr. Klink that “everything was cut-off”, the lawsuit read “explaining that (Mr. Klink’s key-fob to the building was deactivated, computer access was deactivated, and (Delaware Justice Information System) access was deactivated.”

An attempt to collect personal belongings involved both Mr. Klink and Chief Wood going to the office, the suit claimed. The chief watched the former officer as he gathered his items, and allegedly said Mr. Klink’s desk was “off limits” (or similar language).”

The lawsuit claimed that Mr. Klink “then provided Wood a copy of the citizen internal affairs complaint concerning (an officer) and stated that he did not appreciate Wood planting it in his office.

“Wood said nothing, took the citizen internal affairs complaint, and left (Mr. Klink’s) office.”

Two weeks later, Mr. Klink reported, he supposedly claimed to corroborate allegations of “illegal and unconstitutional conduct” involving Smyrna PD operations to an AG office investigator.

Other accusations made

Also following the resignation, the lawsuit claimed a police sergeant authored a disciplinary write-up against an officer for allegedly secretly recording conversation involving Mr. Klink and other officers without their consent. Mr. Klink believes no “meaningful action” has since been taken.

Accusations on how Smyrna Police handled a citizen internal affairs complaint alleged an officer “having sexual relations during on-duty hours” were included in the lawsuit.

Mr. Klink also questioned whether Chief Wood and another officer named in the lawsuit had used qualified firearms.

Citizen internal affairs complaints went unanswered, Mr. Klink alleged, and he accused officers of “tipping off a criminal suspect concerning an impending search warrant.”

Additionally, Mr. Klink alleged he was denied opportunity to take part in training necessary to maintain certification needed to qualify as a police officer in Delaware.

According to Mr. Klink’s claims, Chief Wood allegedly “caused a GPS-monitoring device to be placed on (an officer’s) patrol vehicle without (the officer’s) knowledge.” A citizens complaint allegedly reported sexual relations while the officer was working, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint was never addressed, Mr. Klink claimed, violating town policies. Around July 19, 2016, Mr. Klink alleged that he discovered the complaint in his desk drawer, which he claimed was allegedly placed there by Chief Wood or someone on his behalf without his knowledge.

Mr. Klink alleged that he told a town human resources official about the complaint he found, and they decided it should be kept in the drawer to “see what Wood does next” (or similar language), according to the lawsuit allegations.

Mr. Klink took a photo of the complaint and kept it in his desk, he alleged.

Other town officials were told of the complaint’s alleged location, Mr. Klink said.

It is Mr. Klink’s belief that the complaint was allegedly placed in his drawer to “create the illusion that (he) had negligently or willfully failed to properly address the Complaint.”

Previous PD troubles

The Smyrna Police Department has been embroiled in controversies before:

• In February 2015 ACLU of Delaware settled two lawsuits against Smyrna PD regarding three separate alleged wrongful arrests beginning in August 2013.

A court order mandated that Smyrna PD host a meeting with a police practices expert covering how officers interact with the public, among other stipulations.

• A former police chief retired abruptly on Sept. 6, 2010 before the case of an extortion plot against him that included his ex-girlfriend and two others brought convictions.

• In Nov. 2010, the Delaware Department of Justice investigated claims that town officials allegedly violated Freedom of Information Act guidelines connected to the hiring of Mr. Baldwin’s replacement.

• In October 2007, an officer was cleared of alleged sexual misconduct connected to a prescription drug investigation.

• On June 28, 2007, the Smyrna Police Employees union representing sworn officers sent a letter urging the then-mayor to investigate allegations surrounding a chief’s conduct during the investigation of a personal friend.

• In Sept. 2006, an officer was arrested and charged with official misconduct for allegedly interfering in a traffic stop made by Clayton Police early in the month.

• The promotion of a black officer to deputy chief in December 2006 prompted claims of racism when town council members discussed leaving the vacant position open.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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