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    Top Capitol police sue employers

    Two officers allege a "silly internal power play'' led to their being illegally interrogated.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- The two top police officials in the state Capitol filed suit Friday against their own department and the state agency that supervises it.

    Maj. Robert G. Tippett and Capitol Police Director Terry H. Meek say their rights were repeatedly violated by officials at the Department of Management Services.

    The lawsuit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court by Tallahassee lawyer Bruce Minnick, exposes a bitter internal fight between Department of Management Services Secretary Cynthia Henderson and the police officers who daily guard the governor, Cabinet and Legislature.

    In documents accompanying the lawsuit, Minnick said the problems were caused by a "silly internal power play instigated by the last two remaining troublemakers at Capitol Police."

    Meek, a former agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, was appointed to direct the force three years ago after repeated sexual harassment complaints and other allegations of unprofessional conduct on the part of Capitol Police officers.

    Although Capitol Police are certified law enforcement officers, the agency is overseen by Management Services. Legislators have frequently considered transferring it to FDLE supervision.

    The lawsuit alleges that DMS officials illegally interrogated Meek and Tippett in March in violation of a state law that extends certain rights to police officers who are the subject of a formal complaint.

    The interrogation apparently resulted from a civil suit filed against Capitol Police last year by former Officer Lisa Goldwich. A federal court jury ruled against Goldwich after a trial in February.

    Goldwich accused the department of discriminating against her because she was a woman, but jurors found she did not prove her complaint and exonerated Meek and the department.

    One of the witnesses who testified for Goldwich at the trial, Sgt. Ed Maxwell, filed a written complaint with the inspector general's office after the trial, saying he feared retaliation. Another longtime officer, Lt. Jesse Lovett, also filed a statement with investigators, according to the lawsuit.

    As a result of Maxwell's complaint, Inspector General James D. Varnado and James G. Wallace, his chief investigator, summoned Tippett and began questioning him without explaining that they were investigating a complaint, the lawsuit alleges. A day later, the two investigators summoned Meek and questioned him. Both sessions violate a Florida law that gives accused police officers the right to be advised of the nature of a complaint and to have an attorney present, the lawsuit says.

    A spokesman for the governor said his Chief Inspector General Marcia Cook is reviewing the lawsuit but could not immediately discuss the situation.

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    From the Times state desk