September 9th, 2013 | by ANDREA DAMEWOOD News | Posted In: Cops and Courts, PDX News

Portland Police Desk Clerk Says She was Fired for Calling Out Safety Problems

Lawsuit says she was retaliated against after saying bad communication lead to shootings, suicides at PPB

     
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A former desk clerk for the Portland Police Bureau has filed a $1.7 million lawsuit against the city, claiming she was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing on safety issues in the bureau.

The suit, filed Friday in Oregon District Court, says that Katheryn Elise Johns worked for the bureau for 16 years, most recently at the desk in the North Precinct.

She says that the bureau put her at risk by making her address potentially available to an abusive ex-husband, that North Precinct Commander Mike Leloff berated her for taking time to deal with medical and court issues and that she was targeted for calling out the bureau's poor communication that she says leads to shootings and suicides.

In a 39-page complaint, Johns, whose last name was Levens during her time at the bureau, says that as a member of the safety committee, she was persecuted for being a whistleblower in calling out workplace safety issues, including that she "stressed that safety within PPB should ... include workplace culture and communication issues as well, as these are factors that contribute to putting employees in states of mind that lead to tragic events such as officers shooting citizens and suicides among officers."

She says that she also has a chronic condition stemming from childbirth, as well as a child who is epileptic, and began to use her medical time more frequently. Johns also says in the lawsuit that she left an abusive marriage, and had to take time to deal with counseling and court issues.

The suit lists 27 instances that Johns took sick, court or family leave between 2010 and early 2012.

That, the suit says, drew the ire of supervisors, particularly Leloff.

"She was called into meetings where PPB management interrogated her regarding how many more times she would need medical leave, either for herself or for her children," says the suit, filed by Portland attorney Charese Rohny. "At this time, he engaged in a pattern of yelling at and berating Ms. Johns on her use of medical and domestic violence leave. He demanded to know her current street address for an unknown and unexplained reason."

The suit also says that Johns' ex-husband is friends with a number of officers within the PPB. As a result, the suit says she only ever listed a post office box with the bureau, to keep her ex from potentially learning where she lived. But in she says that someone entered her address into the system without her knowledge.

Finally, in January 2012, Leloff launched an internal affairs investigation on Johns' use of leave. On Aug. 2, 2012, she was fired by Chief Mike Reese. It's not clear if Johns' union representation contested the termination.

Johns' attorney Rohny did not immediately return calls for comment.

PPB spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says he can't comment on pending litigation.
 
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